Hugh Paxton’s Blog is posting a post from somebody else. This might strike you as a lazy way to run a blog. And if that’s what you’re thinking, I think your thinking’s right! The thing is that the Bioplanners blog does things well, is coherent and in my experience gets its perspective and facts right. My suggestion is to skip the middle man (me) and subscribe direct. But, for the time being, I will continue to bathe in the Biloplanner’s hard work and glory.
Read on! You are about to be introduced to a thoroughbred bastard.
We begin! With sharks. The bastards come later. Over to Mr. Duthie!
From David Duthie (Bioplanners)
Many of you will know that the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is holding its 16th CoP this, and next, week in Bangkok, Thailand.
As usual, Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) is providing an invaluable insight into the meeting for those of us who cannot, or chose not, to attend via its daily coverage – see http://www.iisd.ca/cites/cop16/.
The CoP provides a good opportunity for me to flag the dire state of some of the species which will be the subject of the political “bagatelle” in Bangkok.
First up, elephants and rhinos, interestingly, victims of a “too much value” situation.
I have posted recently on the recent upsurge in elephant poaching across both Africa and Asia and there is excellent coverage at these links:
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/world/africa/the-price-of-ivory.html http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/02/world/asia/an-illicit-trail-of-african-ivo ry-to-china.html
In November last year, I was reading a copy of the Jo’burg Sunday newspapers and read an article about a recent upsurge there in Thai “ladies” in South Africa taking up legal rhino hunting – see photo at
At the time I wanted to post the story but could not access the photo, so let it slip.
But now, the New York Times has come to my rescue with an excellent story about Vixay Keosavang – “The Pablo Escobar of wildlife trafficking” – see http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/04/world/asia/notorious-figure-in-animal-smug gling-beyond-reach-in-laos.html
– and below.
and – lo and behold – he is linked to those Thai “ladies”!
Second up – sharks (plus rays, skates and the enigmatically-named chimaeras) collectively known, for the taxonomically-inclined, as the Chondrichthyes (cartilaginous, as opposed to other, bony, fish).
Sharks have a bad reputation for killing people – statistically, this is a nonsense.
In 2011, 17 fatalities were recorded as having being caused by shark attacks, out of 118 recorded attacks. According to the International Shark Attack File (ISAF), between 1580 and 2011 there were 2,463 confirmed unprovoked shark attacks around the world, of which 471 were fatal. Even considering only people who go to beaches, a person’s chance of getting attacked by a shark in the United States is 1 in
11.5 million, and a person’s chance of getting killed by a shark is less than 1 in 264.1 million. In the United States, the annual number of people who drown is 3,306, whereas the annual number of shark fatalities is 1. [see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shark_attack%5D
In a recent review in Marine Policy journal, Boris Worm and colleagues estimated that, in 2000 alone, humans caught (aka “attacked and killed”) something of the order of 100 million sharks, exceeding the biological productivity of most species and thus an unsustainable harvest that will lead to extinction of shark species and loss of
a(nother) potentially sustainable harvest of animal protein.
Worm, Boris, Brendal Davis, Lisa Kettemer, Christine A Ward-Paige, Demian Chapman, Michael R Heithaus, Steven T Kessel, and Samuel H Gruber (2013, in press) Global catches, exploitation rates, and rebuilding options for sharks. Marine Policy, vol. 40 pp. 194-204;
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308597X13000055 (subscription required)
Adequate conservation and management of shark populations is becoming increasingly important on a global scale, especially because many species are exceptionally vulnerable to overfishing. Yet, reported catch statistics for sharks are incomplete, and mortality estimates have not been available for sharks as a group. Here, the global catch and mortality of sharks from reported and unreported landings, discards, and shark finning are being estimated at 1.44 million metric tons for the year 2000, and at only slightly less in 2010 (1.41 million tons). Based on an analysis of average shark weights, this translates into a total annual mortality estimate of about 100 million sharks in 2000, and about 97 million sharks in 2010, with a total range of possible values between 63 and 273 million sharks per year. Further, the exploitation rate for sharks as a group was calculated by dividing two independent mortality estimates by an estimate of total global biomass. As an alternative approach, exploitation rates for individual shark populations were compiled and averaged from stock assessments and other published sources. The resulting three independent estimates of the average exploitation rate ranged between 6.4% and 7.9% of sharks killed per year. This exceeds the average rebound rate for many shark populations, estimated from the life history information on 62 shark species (rebound rates averaged 4.9% per year), and explains the ongoing declines in most populations for which data exist. The consequences of these unsustainable catch and mortality rates for marine ecosystems could be substantial. Global total shark mortality, therefore, needs to be reduced drastically in order to rebuild depleted populations and restore marine ecosystems with functional top predators.
If we continue to allow such unsustainable practices to continue, just to benefit a few at the long-term cost of the many, we will, in the end, have to eat our words – the only things that will be left if we chose not to act appropriately. Let us see if the CITES Parties are “fit for purpose” or not!
My final comment is to re-emphasis a point made, long ago, by the economist Colin Clark in his seminal paper
Clark, Colin (1973) The Economics of Overexploitation. Science, 1973 vol. 181 (4100) pp. 630-634;
The general economic analysis of a biological resource presented in this article suggests that overexploitation in the physical sense of reduced productivity may result from not one, but two social
conditions: common-property competitive exploitation on the one hand, and private-property maximization of profits on the other. For populations that are economically valuable but possess low reproductive capacities, either condition may lead even to the extinction of the population. In view of the likelihood of private firms adopting high rates of discount, the conservation of renewable resources would appear to require continual public surveillance and control of the physical yield and the condition of the stocks.
Whilst private-profit-motivated individuals and companies can “mine” natural and biological resources at rates beyond natural rates of regeneration, and hide their actions within socially-negligent financial institutions, then we are truly “eating the future”.
March 3, 2013
In Trafficking of Wildlife, Out of Reach of the Law
By THOMAS FULLER
HONG TONG, Laos – On an obscure and bumpy dirt road not far from the banks of the Mekong River, the compound of Vixay Keosavang stands out for its iron gates and cinder-block walls topped with barbed wire, a contrast to the rickety wooden stilt houses nearby in the shade of rubber trees.
A security guard who opened the gate recently said tigers, bears, lizards and many endangered anteaters called pangolins were inside. He called his boss and handed the cellphone to a reporter seeking permission to enter the compound.
Mr. Vixay (pronounced wee-sai), who spoke politely in a mixture of Thai and Laotian, denied that there were any animals inside or that he was in the wildlife business.
“There’s nothing there,” Mr. Vixay said of the compound, which is a five-mile drive to the nearest paved road. “Who told you about it?”
Mr. Vixay is notorious among investigators and government officials in several countries fighting to cut off syndicates operating a thriving trade in endangered animals that spans continents and has led to the slaughter of elephants in Africa, the illegal killings of rhinoceroses and the decimation of other species living in Asia’s jungles.
Mr. Vixay, says one investigator, is the “Pablo Escobar of wildlife trafficking.”
Interviews with government officials in five countries and a review of hundreds of pages of government and court documents compiled by a counter-trafficking organization provide strong evidence that Mr. Vixay, a Laotian, is a linchpin of wildlife smuggling operations.
South African authorities prosecuting a case of rhinoceros horn smuggling say one of Mr. Vixay’s companies, Xaysavang Trading, perpetrated “one of the biggest swindles in environmental crime history,” circumventing the law by hiring people to pose as hunters, who are allowed to kill a limited number of rhinos as trophies. In a separate case, Kenyan officials tied the company to the smuggling of elephant tusks for the ivory trade.
But the bulk of Mr. Vixay’s wildlife trading operations, investigators say, is the “laundering” of animals.
The ruse, the documents suggest and investigators say, involves smuggling animals from other countries into Laos and then exporting them – with Laotian government paperwork – under the pretense that they were bred there in captivity and therefore, in many cases, could be sold legally.
The case is especially frustrating to those outside Laos, who say Mr. Vixay appears untouchable as long as he remains in his home country, where, they say, officials have refused to do a thorough investigation despite the reams of evidence presented to them. And without stopping him, wildlife officials and investigators say, they have little hope of breaking down a business empire that they say connects the African savanna to the Asian jungles and ultimately to customers of ivory and traditional medicines in Vietnam and China.
“He is the single largest known illegal wildlife trafficker in Asia,” said Steven Galster, the executive director of Freeland, a
counter-trafficking organization that has been trailing Mr. Vixay for eight years. “He runs an aggressive business, sourcing lucrative wild animals and body parts wherever they are easily obtained. Every country with commercially valuable wildlife should beware.”
Freeland has been instrumental in building a case against Mr. Vixay, and was the source of the vast majority of the documents reviewed for this article, including business contracts and Laotian customs documents that attest to the scale of his operations. Founded in Bangkok more than a decade ago, Freeland is staffed by current and former law enforcement officials from Britain, the United States, Thailand and a number of other Asian countries, and is financed partly by the American government.
The nonprofit organization, which works closely with government officials in Africa, Asia and the United States, also provided entree for The New York Times to some of those officials. The Times interviewed authorities from Thailand, China, South Africa, Laos and Vietnam.
The booming trade in exotic wildlife has been fueled by rising wealth in China and Vietnam and the demand there for things like the scales of the pangolin, which are consumed in the unproven belief that they help lactating mothers.
Mr. Vixay, who is in his 50s, has met this growing demand for animals like snakes, lizards and turtles from his base in the impoverished countryside of Laos, a thinly populated country bordering Vietnam and China and known for its widespread corruption.
For years, the inner workings of his syndicate remained somewhat opaque to the Thai investigators trailing him. But in 2011, for the first time, a part of Mr. Vixay’s operations was exposed by the arrest and trial of a Thai man who says he was his deputy, Chumlong Lemtongthai, thousands of miles away in South Africa after an investigation of a rhino-horn smuggling operation.
One of the tip-offs for the authorities was Mr. Chumlong’s choice of fake hunters: petite Thai women who turned out to be prostitutes. Thai officials who intercepted some of the rhino horns from South Africa could not believe the women had actually bagged the animals.
“It’s a very, very big gun,” one officer said when questioning Mr. Chumlong, according to a video recording by a representative of Freeland who was at the interview.
Questioned by Laotian officials after a query from South African authorities, Mr. Vixay said he “had no idea about suspects arrested in South Africa.” But Thai investigators discovered a photo on Mr.
Chumlong’s computer that showed him posing with Mr. Vixay, and a certificate at Mr. Chumlong’s office outside Bangkok that said he had been appointed a representative of Mr. Vixay’s company.
Evidence at the trial, which included airway bills showing that some rhino horns from the hunts were shipped to one of Mr. Vixay’s addresses in Laos, raised hopes among investigators that his business would be severely disrupted, if not dismantled.
But more than a year and a half after the arrest of Mr. Chumlong, who has since drawn a 40-year sentence in South Africa, Mr. Vixay remains a free man.
An operative in the smuggling operation arrested in South Africa, Puntitpak Chunchom, suggested a possible reason, telling investigators that Laos was a perfect base for Mr. Vixay because he was untouchable in the country.
“He is so well protected that nobody can arrest him in Laos,” Mr. Puntitpak said, according to a transcript of an interview by Thai authorities.
Freeland has obtained official Laotian documents that show Mr. Vixay’s company is authorized to breed rare and endangered animals and to sell them within Laos and across borders.
But documents suggest he is also trading in endangered animals or animal parts from other countries, which for some species is always prohibited by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. In other cases, the United Nations treaty allows some trade, but only if the animals are bred. (Laos became a signatory to the treaty in 2004.)
A single sales contract from 2009 obtained by Freeland suggests the large volume of animals that Mr. Vixay trades in. Xaysavang Trading, Mr. Vixay’s company, agreed to sell 70,000 snakes, 20,000 turtles and
20,000 monitor lizards to a Vietnamese company in a deal worth $860,000.
Experts say the sheer volume of animals is evidence of laundering. Breeding 20,000 of the species of turtle that Mr. Vixay’s company commonly sells – the yellow-headed temple turtle – could take a decade, according to Doug Hendrie, an adviser at Education for Nature, a group in Vietnam that conducts investigations into wildlife crime.
In recent years, Thai authorities have intercepted a number of trucks carrying turtles, tiger cubs, tiger carcasses, pangolins and snakes headed for Mr. Vixay’s businesses on the other side of the Mekong River, according to Freeland.
In addition, 280 kilograms of ivory – more than 600 pounds – seized by the Kenyan wildlife police was addressed to Mr. Vixay’s company.
An item on the seizure on the Kenya Wildlife Service Web site ends with this entreaty, “Kenya’s outcry is to totally stop the bloody elephant trade.”
Laotian authorities admit that animal smuggling is a problem but say the evidence against Mr. Vixay is not sufficient to investigate him further.
“We found nothing there,” said Bouaxam Inthalangsi, a top Laotian official in the forestry department.
But when pressed about the voluminous evidence against Mr. Vixay, Mr. Bouaxam hinted at obstacles. Enforcing the law was “difficult,” he said.
“It’s about influence,” he said. “Trafficking syndicates have links to influential people – this is the main problem.”
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