Smartphone app developed to identify illegal wildlife products

A WCS scientist has developed a smartphone app that helps law enforcement and military personnel identify illegal endangered species products in China, Afghanistan, and Viet Nam. The app allows the user to narrow the product down to the likely species, and also provides advice from expert taxonomists in eight hours. Heidi Kretser thought of the app after seeing US military personnel in Afghanistan purchasing illegal products including snow leopard furs.

For more details, see http://www.takepart.com/article/2014/10/09/smartphone-apps-lets-cops-track-down-illegal-wildlife-products

Source: takepart.com

Online Shopping Site Etsy Bans Endangered Species Products

After SLN Steering Committee member Sibylle Noras found a product claiming to contain snow leopard fur on the online shopping site etsy.com, pressure to stop offering endangered species products was exerted on Etsy by the Snow Leopard Trust, along with many other members of the SLN and the general public, using the online petition website care2.com. Etsy has now stopped offering these illegal and damaging products, even those that are supposedly “pre-ban.” Etsy is a leader in online shopping, and this change in policy represents a victory for conservation.

More information: http://www.care2.com/causes/victory-etsy-bans-endangered-animal-products.html

Snow Leopard populations in decline due to illegal trade

The trading of big cat pelts is nothing new, but recent demand for snow leopard pelts and taxidermy mounts has added a new commodity to the illegal trade in wildlife products, according to the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). Traditionally, the market for large cat products has centered around tiger bones and parts for traditional Chinese medicine. Snow leopards (Uncia uncia), however, are a novel trend in the illegal wildlife trade arena and skins and taxidermy mounts are the most recent fad in luxury home décor.

The EIA, a UK-based non-profit organization whose mission is to investigate crimes to the environment, are concerned that attention to the plight of snow leopards is compromised because of the global conservation focus on tigers. While tiger poaching is a rampant threat, the EIA estimates that for every tiger poached, approximately six leopards are taken, including snow leopards.

Experts have estimated that there are between 4,000 and 6,000 snow leopards left in the wild, making them one of Asia’s most endangered mammals. This estimate was calculated several years ago, however, and it is believed that the number today is significantly lower.

Results of EIA investigations reveal that the majority of snow leopard pelts are being harvested in China, Mongolia, India, Nepal, and Pakistan. Beginning in 2005, open trade in large cat products has declined and most of the illegal transactions in large cat trading is done in secret, making it difficult to monitor. Investigators from the EIA have documented hundreds of sales in illegal cat parts, but this detection success may be marginal compared to the actual trade.

“The skins uncovered by our investigators are just the tip of the iceberg,” says Debbie Banks, the head of EIA’s Tiger Campaign.

International Customs agents approximate the detected amount of illegal trade to be merely a tenth of the actual rate, meaning over 1,000 snow leopards have been killed and traded in the past dozen years or approximately a fifth of the estimated wild population of snow leopards on the planet. This means more than just a decline in leopard populations.

“Snow leopards are valuable indicators of environmental health,” says Tariq Aziz, leader the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Himalayas Initiative. “…their declining numbers is a sign that the places they live are also threatened.”

While novel trends in the luxury home décor market have been driving a recent increase in the trading of snow leopard skins, populations of snow leopards have been in jeopardy for quite some time. Unusual for most endangered species, habitat degradation is not the main issue for declining populations of snow leopards. These cold-hardy cats inhabit frigid, rugged, high-elevation environments that are inhospitable to most human development. In addition to poaching, the two gravest threats to wild snow leopards are a decline in their native prey and direct killing by ranchers and herders.

In recent years, snow leopards have been under threat as increased grazing has eliminated the cat’s natural prey. Facing less food, some snow leopards have turned to prey on domestic animals, which makes them targets for livestock owners. While many snow leopard killings are not motivated for sale in the illegal wildlife trade, inevitably, that is where they end up. A herder who kills a leopard eliminates a threat to his flock and may also earn a payout for his kill. The typical price paid for a snow leopard pelt varies by region and purpose: some pelts are sold locally for a mere few dollars while others, sold to tourists and foreigners, go for hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Snow leopards are elusive; they are stealthy, well-camouflaged, and not commonly encountered in the wild. While their geographic distribution encompasses a wide area, their distribution is patchy and they are not common throughout their range. Snow leopards are a handsome cat with a thick, white, rosette-studded coat, which makes their pelts such a luxury item.

According to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), “range states,” or countries where snow leopards are distributed, are obligated to report on the status of illegal trade operations in endangered species. Currently, not a single country of the 11 has submitted a report. There is an urgent need for information regarding illegal trade in snow leopard parts. The EIA states that snow leopard conservators (like CITES) are in need of more specific information, including: “…the number of leopards poached and entering the trade…number of cases currently being investigated…sentences posed against successful convictions, and trans-boundary issues affecting trade.”

Without knowing how many animals are actually being trafficked and where exactly they are coming from, advocates like EIA can do little to help. While the future for snow leopards seems bleak, there is reason to be optimistic. Conservation organizations are spearheading projects and programs to curb the killing. In Mongolia the International Snow Leopard Trust has organized a community-based handicraft program to offer a market for local handmade goods in exchange for a commitment to conserve snow leopards. In India the Snow Leopard Conservancy has partnered with locals to capitalize on eco-tourism opportunities focused on snow leopard conservation and traditional cultural experiences for tourists. Other partners, like the Wildlife Conservation Society, are focusing on livestock protection and husbandry improvements to reduce the accessibility of stock to leopards and have piloted the first livestock predation insurance program in Afghanistan.

Read more at http://news.mongabay.com/2013/0103-santana-snow-leopards.html#qwSzjyiiVBJBsTvR.99

Snow leopard skin seized by police in Dehradun

Thanks to SLN member Belinda Wright for this information:

“A snow leopard skin was seized by police in Dehradun on Wednesday morning, 5 December 2012. The Special Task Force of the Uttarahand Police arrested two people.”

Zeenews.india.com elaborates:

Poacher arrested with snow leopard’s skin

“Dehradun: A suspected poacher was arrested on Wednesday by the special task force for being found in possession of the skin of highly-endangered snow leopard, estimated to be over Rs 50 lakh in street market.

The accused Ravindra Singh Bhandari has been booked under the Wild Life Protection Act, said SSP (in charge) of STF Senthil A Krishnaraj.

Bhandari was arrested from his Gangotri Vihar home late last night, Krishnaraj said, adding that the accused was going to smuggle the big cat’s skin and tail to Delhi.

The snow leopard comes under the highly-endangered category and only 500 of them are left all over India, he said adding that the skin recovered from Bhandari’s possession is estimated to be over Rs 50 lakh in street market.”

Source: http://zeenews.india.com/news/uttarakhand/poacher-arrested-with-snow-leopard-s-skin_814936.html

Crime chiefs agree to get tough on illegal tiger trade

By Mark Kinver Environment reporter, BBC News
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17041183

Crime chiefs from countries with populations of wild tigers have agreed to work together in order to combat the illegal trade in the big cats.

Heads of police and customs from 13 nations agreed to tighten controls and improve cross-border co-operation at a two-day meeting in Bangkok.

Only six subspecies remain, with fewer than 1,000 tigers in each group.

Smuggling of tiger parts is one of the main threats facing the planet’s remaining big cats, say experts.

The seminar in Thailand’s capital, organised by Interpol and hosted by the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), was attended by 26 senior crime officials and representatives from partner organisations, including the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).

‘Natural heritage abuse’

“[Our efforts to fight tiger crime] must not just result in seizures – they must result in prosecutions, convictions and strong penalties to stop the flow of contraband,” said John Scanlon, Cites secretary general.

“If we get the enforcement system right for the tiger, we will help save countless other species together with their ecosystems.”

Jean-Michel Louboutin, Interpol’s executive director of police services, observed: “This important seminar has highlighted the environmental crime challenges facing senior law enforcement officers, and the need for enhanced international co-operation.

“Criminals cannot prosper from abusing our shared national heritage.”

Delegates also used the meeting to formally endorse the Interpol-led Project Predator.

The initiative, launched in November 2011, has three main aims:

* organising collaborative, high-level international efforts to improve political will to tackle the problem of illegal trade in tiger parts
* transforming politicians’ will to act into tangible support from government departments and agencies
* training enforcement officers in the necessary skills

Project Predator is also encouraging countries to establish National Tiger Crime Task Forces, which will form working partnerships with Interpol, in order to provide “modern intelligence-led enforcement practices for tiger conservation”.

Interpol said the project would not be limited to the protection of tigers, but would extend to the all of Asia’s big cat species, such as the snow leopard and Asiatic lion, as these animals faced similar threats.

The meeting in Bangkok is the latest development in efforts to improve protection and conservation measures since a high-profile summit in November 2010 pledged to double the global population of tigers by 2022.

At the gathering in St Petersburg, Russia, senior political figures from the 13 range nations pledged to protect tiger habitats, address poaching, illegal trade and provide the financial resources for the plan.

Over the past century, tiger numbers have dropped from about 100,000 to about 4,000 tigers in the wild today.

And over the past decade, there has been a 40% decline, with conservationists warning that some populations were expected to disappear completely within 20 years unless urgent action was taken.

Dutch Father & Son Caught with Snow Leopard Bones

http://www.expatica.com/nl/news/dutch-news/dutch-police-find-40-boxes-of-rare-animal-bones_202642.html

Dutch police find 40 boxes of rare animal bones

Two Dutch men were arrested after police discovered 40 boxes filled with animal bones, including those of a rare snow leopard, in the northeastern city of Emmen, a police spokesman said Friday.

“Police received a tip-off about the men and when they searched two homes on Thursday, they found chimpanzee, crocodile and hippopotamus skeletons and even the skull of rare snow leopard, as well as ivory,” Ron Reinds told AFP.

The father and son, aged 54 and 31, could not explain why the skeletons were in their possession and they were arrested, said Reinds, adding the men are being investigated under Dutch fauna and flora legislation.

Described by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List as endangered, the snow leopard is found in the high mountains of central Asia.

There are an estimated 4,000 to 6,500 of the animals left, according to the IUCN.

© 2011 AFP

Russian officials cleared of poaching charges (shooting argali from helicopter in Altai)

Russian officials cleared of poaching charges

23 May 2011
A court in southern Siberia’s Altai Republic on Monday acquitted three high-ranking officials whose hunting of endangered animals led to a deadly helicopter crash two years ago.

Judge Nikolai Lubenitsky said the prosecution had failed to prove the defendants’ guilt. He also said all the three men could claim compensation for damages sustained as a result of the prosecution.

A Mi-17 helicopter carrying government officials crashed near Altai’s Chernaya mountain in January 2009, killing seven people, including the Russian president’s envoy to the State Duma, Alexander Kosopkin, and a federal environmental official.

It was subsequently alleged that the officials had been hunting endangered mountain sheep.

Four people survived the crash, including the republic’s deputy prime minister, Anatoly Bannykh, who resigned after the crash; deputy head of the Institute of Economics and Law Nikolai Kapranov, and State Duma official and businessman Boris Belinsky.

The three officials were charged with illegal hunting and faced up to two years in prison if found guilty.

KOSH-AGACH (Altai Republic), May 23 (RIA Novosti)
http://en.rian.ru/russia/20110523/164177511.html

Putin’s animal antics questioned in Russia

By Maria Antonova (AFP) – 19 hours ago

MOSCOW — “There’s a good kitty, a pretty kitty,” Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was shown by state media telling snow leopard last weekend, who stared back at him, covered in fresh blood.

The rare species is the latest to go under “personal control” of the Russian leader, who is overseeing research programs on a handful of mammals, including the tiger, beluga whale and polar bear.

As part of that work he has taken part in several tagging missions with scientists from the Moscow-based Severtsov Institute.

But other scientists have said the snow leopard was harmed, and that the program is scientifically unreasonable and directed more towards publicity.

The leopard, called Mongol, had to be flown to Khakasia, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) away from its habitat in the Sayano-Shushensky reserve, and was held in captivity for five days, released only after meeting Putin.

The removal of the animal was “criminal”, according to the regional UNDP-funded programme on biodiversity, since the Severtsov institute only had permission to tag Mongol, which could have been done in 15 minutes.

On Sunday, the Severtsov institute said on its website that the animal had to be held and treated for wounds on his neck and cheekbone.

“He was ill,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told AFP, dismissing allegations that the animal had been held captive in order to meet the prime minister as “absolutely groundless.”

But Alexander Bondarev, the manager of UNDP’s program, argued: “That any treatment was necessary is a big question.

“It is as though he was cured as soon as he saw the prime minister,” he added.

“If he really needed treatment, he could be treated in a zoo or in a veterinary center.”

Mongol could even have harmed himself as he was trying to break loose, said another observer.

“The important question is: how was the animal affected by staying in a cage?” said WWF Russia head Igor Chestin.

“Big cats, when disturbed, start hitting against it and can break their teeth, and without teeth they will not survive in the wild.”

There are only 100 snow leopards in Russia. “Each is literally golden,” said Bondarev.

They were easier to catch in the Sayano-Shushensky reserve, but tagging its population was not scientifically valuable, he added.

“There are only seven or eight specimens there, they are isolated and well studied,” he said. Tagging had to be done together with on-ground monitoring to see why the animal was moving in a certain way, he added.

“That cannot be done in a strictly protected area such as a reserve,” he said.

The Severtsov institute’s program, which studies animals in the Red Book of endangered species “and other especially important animals of Russia” currently lists six mammals, most of which were tagged, patted, or kissed by Putin.

The programme is funded by state oil transport monopoly Transneft, and a Saint Petersburg-based charitable fund “Konstantinovsky”, which is chaired mostly by government officials.

The first time the general public heard about it was in 2008, when Putin voiced support for the endangered Amur Tiger and participated in a tagging expedition in the Russian Far East.

A video about the expedition on the prime minister’s website relates how a helicopter carrying Vladimir Putin landed in the taiga.

Just as the prime minister is overseeing the facilities, “a tigress stumbles across a trap,” the video relates.

Putin personally drives the SUV to the scene, and “appears on the trail just at the moment the tigress makes a leap.” Handy with a gun, Putin shoots a syringe with the sedative, says the video’s commentary.

But that version of events does not gel with that told by some members of the conservation community, as one Far Eastern tiger expert told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Local conservationists believe the animal was flown in from the Khabarovsk zoo (about 500 kilometres away) in time for the visit.

It was placed in the trap, sedated just enough so it could start stirring when the delegation drove up, he said.

Later the animal was returned to the zoo and a different wild tigress was eventually captured and released with the tracker.

“This could be confirmed by a stripe pattern comparison,” the source said: “For each animal the pattern is unique.”

The big cat programmes advertised as pioneering on the Institute’s website have no synergy with local research, which has been going on for 18 years, he added.

“They like to say their project is supported by the government, so nobody voices any serious criticism. But locally scientists don’t like them, since they structure programmes based on convenience and PR.”

At the WWF, Chestin complained of low salaries, a cut in the number of rangers and other changes introduced after the government did away with its federal environmental protection committee.

“While considerable money is being spent lately on research, systematically, conservation of animals is in very poor shape,” he said.

It was Putin himself who signed the decree to end the committee’s existence on May 17th, 2000, ten days after his inauguration.

Copyright © 2011 AFP

http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jNp_lxEWFaxUjP-OX3N42D8ATY8Q?docId=CNG.1b64a6725906cfcabaa4f4b42fc1a3bf.321

Gilgit-Baltistan Wildlife department to probe leopard death, Pakistan

Snow Leopard dies in Wildlife Dept’s custody
DAWN.COM
February 26, 2011 (2 days ago)

The villagers claimed that they had caught the wild cat alive.—File photo
SKARDU: A Snow Leopard which had spread terror among villagers allegedly died in the custody of the Wildlife Department on Saturday.
The wild-cat had come out of a forest in search of food last month and had spread panic among the residents of Minthal by killing livestock.
On Saturday morning, the villagers followed and caught the cat and handed it over to the Wildlife Department but it died soon after.
The villagers claimed that they had caught the wild cat alive.
The Wildlife Department said that it will conduct a post-mortem of the cat after which the cause of its death can be determined.
Video link: http://www.dawn.com/2011/02/26/snow-leopard-dies-in-wildlife-dept%E2%80%99s-custody.html

http://www.dawn.com/2011/02/26/snow-leopard-dies-in-wildlife-dept%E2%80%99s-custody.html

Wildlife dept to probe leopard death
By Shabbir Mir
Published: February 28, 2011

GILGIT: The wildlife department of Gilgit-Baltistan has constituted a committee to probe the killing of a rare snow leopard beaten to death by residents in a remote village, officials told The Express Tribune on Sunday.

“We have constituted a committee to thoroughly investigate the matter,” said Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Ghulam Mohammad.

Earlier on Saturday, locals in Mathal, a village in Skardu, captured and tortured a snow leopard, which they claimed had killed dozens of their livestock previously. “This time too, the lethal predator had attacked our livestock and injured it,” said Wafa Khan, a resident of Skardu.

As a precautionary measure, locals said they had been prepared to counter the threat and when they learnt the leopard had ambushed the cattle, they reacted swiftly to save it. “This time around, people were alert so the leopard failed to inflict huge losses,” said a resident from Skardu, Raza Hussain.

Sources said people were waiting for the cat and when it arrived, they tried to capture it alive. Some threw a large blanket around it while others caught her tail. In the wrangling, the wild animal sustained injuries on her head and other parts of her body as it was hit to the wall repeatedly.

“After hectic efforts, the leopard was overpowered and handed over to forest officials,” said a villager, adding that the leopard died while she was in custody of officials from the forest department, who had a veterinary doctor to have the leopard inspected.

DFO Mohammad said that besides forest officials, a veterinary doctor and a snow leopard expert will also be part of the committee that will submit its findings to him. “There are various conflicting reports with respect to the killing of the precious wild animal,” he said, adding that severe legal action will be taken if anyone is found guilty of the killing.

According to wildlife laws, a perpetrator can face more than two years imprisonment for killing the rare cat.

The snow leopard is one of the most endangered wild animals found in the mountainous region.

Conservationists say that wild animals turn towards human settlements when they don’t find food in the mountains. “When illegal hunting of animals such as Markhor and Ibex will take place, these animals will naturally turn towards human settlements in search of food,” said an environmentalist in Gilgit. He added that the survival of this precious animal is under threat due to illegal hunting.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 28th, 2011.
http://tribune.com.pk/story/124929/wildlife-dept-to-probe-leopard-death/