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Newsletter 120

Creative conservation

Hello Friends 

When I darted my first lion in the 70's, things were very different. Dart guns were much less accurate than they are today. The darts were heavy metal and aluminium. (On one occasion the metal dart killed a cheetah outright on impact.) Today, a good vet can hit a small target at 40 metres with a modern dart gun. 

In the 70's there was no antidote for lions. I remember staying up many nights protecting sleeping lions that were recovering from being darted. With an antidote, a lion or tiger can be fully awake in 5 to 10 minutes.  

In those days we used a drug called Sernyl or Phencyclidine. (This drug was abused by the drug users in America and was called "Angel Dust". It caused hallucinations in humans). 

Occasionally a lion darted with Sernyl would go into a fit. We would put cardboard between its teeth to prevent it biting it's tongue. 

This last week at Tiger Canyons, Dr Ryan Nienaber and Dr Charlotte Mouiex expertly moved 5 tigers and put 3 tigresses on birth control. All of this in the space of a few hours.

The introduction of contraception is hugely useful in a project like Tiger Canyons, where the numbers have to be carefully managed.

Once the tiger is darted, I am able to insert a microchip (this is for identification), place a satellite transmitter under the skin (this is a device which allows us to track the tiger and map it's home range), take a blood sample (this allows us for create a genetic profile of each tiger). 

The mana‎gement plan to create one large area for tigers has begun and the first internal fence (5km long) is being removed as I write this. 

This means that Ussuri's 3 cubs, Antoine, Jameez, and Marguerite have a large area into which they can disperse. Ussuri and Tibo (the white tigress) are now able to greatly expand their territories. 

In theory Tibo's three cubs could be in danger from males that are not the father. However Shy Boy, Tiger Boy, and Seatao have all been moved to other areas. 

On moving Tiger Boy into Corbett's area, he immediately attacked Zaria's cubs. Zaria defended her cubs and a fight broke out. Corbett on hearing the fight, joined Zaria and attacked Tiger Boy. Tiger Boy got Corbett down and was winning the fight when Zaria jumped onto Tiger Boy and attacked him, saving Corbett's life. (I witnessed a similar incident in a fight between two male leopards, Marthly Male and Camp Pan Male. Vomba female jumped onto Marthly Male to help Camp Pan Male out who was the father of her cubs.) ‎After Zaria jumped onto Tiger Boy, all three tigers began boxing and I witnessed the incredible sight of 3 tigers, all a metre off the ground captured in one frame. 

While the adults were fighting, Zaria's cubs ran away but got separated. Tiger Boy killed one of the cubs the following morning. 

I would like to thank the following people who have over many years shared their knowledge of veterinary care and management of big cats with me. 

The late Dr Eddie Young and Dr David Meltzer. Doctors Roy Bengis, DeWald Keet, Peter Rodgers, Charlotte Mouiex and Ryan Nienaber. In addition Ian Whyte, Butch Smuts, Trevor Dealove.

Tread lightly on the Earth

Serengeti Highway

I would like to congratulate the African Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW) who had the courage to take the Tanzanian Government to court and prevent, for now, the highway through the Serengeti being built.

The East African Court of Justice ruled against a paved commercial highway through Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. Although a great victory, the ruling contains ‘potholes.’ 

Serengeti Watch supported a court case brought forward by the African Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW), a nonprofit organization located in Kenya, who filed for the case in December of 2010. We provided funding through its Serengeti Legal Defense Fund which paid for research trips to the Serengeti and legal fees for the Kenyan attorney, Saitabao Ole Kanchory.

The suit was filed after the government of Tanzania announced plans to build a 53 Km commercial highway across the northern section of the Serengeti National Park. The highway would replace an existing dirt track. According to a Tanzanian government study the highway would carry up to 800 commercial vehicles a day by 2015, with increasing numbers thereafter. Scientists warned that the highway would bisect a narrow section of the Serengeti ecosystem that was critical to the annual wildebeest migration. Therefore, the proposed highway would cause the migration to collapse due the fragmentation of natural migration patterns. 

The lawsuit sought a permanent injunction against the proposed highway on the grounds that it was in violation of the East African Community Treaty, of which Tanzania and Kenya are signatories. The Treaty calls for “the promotion of sustainable utilization of the natural resources of the Partner States and the taking of measures that would effectively protect the natural environment of Partner States.” The applicant sought to bar Tanzania from “upgrading, tarmacking, paving, realigning, constructing, creating or commissioning” the existing track. 

Serengeti Watch and ANAW contended that opening a paved highway to the general public would cause irreversible damage to the Serengeti. The highway would impact: migratory species such as zebras and wildebeest; wildlife poaching; air quality and noise; soils; flora and fauna; road safety and increased accidents as well as many more unforeseen issues. ANAW cited conservation organizations that had issued warnings about the impact of the highway, including the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. 

The case also contended that the government of Tanzania was in violation of various international treaties. Chief among these, a UNESCO treaty declaring the Serengeti a “World Heritage Property” of “outstanding universal value. 

The court agreed with the plaintiff’s argument that the highway would have irreversible negative impacts. It affirmed that construction of the highway would be a violation of the East African Community Treaty. In doing so, the court order cited Tanzania’s own Environmental Impact Study and relied heavily on statements issued by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. 

“A permanent injunction is hereby issued restraining the Respondent from going forward with its initial proposal of constructing or maintaining a road of bitumen standard across the Serengeti National Park subject to its right to undertake such other programs or initiate policies in the future which would not have a negative impact on the environment and ecosystem in the Serengeti National Park.” Read the court verdict. 

After the verdict ANAW’s Executive Director, Jophat Ngonyo, said: “This was not a win for ANAW; nor for our lawyer, Saitabao Ole Kanchory, not for Serengeti Watch, not for our expert witness John Kuloba, but for the millions of animals in the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. It is a win for nature and God’s creation. Nature has won today.” 

A road upgraded is still in the pipeline: 

Although, the case sought to prevent any form upgrading, the court did not specifically bar this, only the development of an asphalt road. The government of Tanzania says it will instead upgrade the existing dirt track to an all-weather gravel road. The track is in a zone designated to wilderness area, reserved for park vehicles and walking safaris. 

Roads for public use not addressed: 

The EACJ said that roads in the Serengeti should be “reserved for tourists and park personnel and not the general public,” its injunction did not specify this. Tanzania still has the ability to open roads for the public, including commercial use. In fact, in a recent press article, government officials have emphasized their intention to build a highway that would inevitably cross the park. 

Roads outside of the park not addressed: 

The entire Serengeti ecosystem includes areas within the Serengeti National Park and outlying areas such as the Masai Mara. Wildlife migration takes place across all these regions. There are plans for paved roads in migration areas outside the park that will impact the migration. The court case did not address this issue either.

An uncertain future: 

Many observers warn that the gravel road will inevitably become a highway carrying more commercial traffic. There will be increasing pressure to connect the paved roads on either side of the park with a commercial link through the park. Richard Leakey, for one, said that a highway is “inevitable.” 

Sale of Zimbabwe Elephants to Chinese 

I would like ‎to thank all of you who have kept exposing the despicable sale of 200 elephant calves to China. 

Keep the pressure up in the social media and keep asking the question, how is it that CITES have granted permits for these elephants. 

Controversial Export of Elephants to China Appears Under Way 

A grim fate likely awaits young elephants plucked from Zimbabwe's wild. 

By Christina Russo, National Geographic  

PUBLISHED Thu Jun 25 14:15:00 EDT 2015 

Chinese crews in a Zimbabwe park are reportedly preparing young elephants and lions captured there for transport to China, triggering alarm among activists who fear that the animals are doomed to a life of suffering. 

Sources close to the scene have claimed that the facility in Hwange National Park, where elephants have been confined since late last year, has been turned over to the Chinese.  

According to Sharon Hoole, a Zimbabwe-born, UK-based animal activist who has been closely following—and protesting—the planned export of the Hwange elephants, “We were pushing and asking [our sources] for photos, specifically of the hydraulic equipment and the trucks and forklifts [brought to the park], and we weren't getting feedback from our contacts.” 

She says she found out on June 18 that most of the Zimbabwean staff at the facility have been replaced by Chinese workers and veterinarians. 

Hoole was also told that the Chinese are “rehearsing” loading elephants into their transportation crates with bull hooks. 

Training of wild-caught elephants involves beating, chaining, food deprivation, and social deprivation. 

Given what is now known about the high intelligence of elephants and the importance of their social bonds, ripping them from their herds and sending them across the globe to be kept in prison-like conditions is deeply troubling to those who know them intimately. 

“For elephants, being held captive for decades in a circus or in the majority of the world's zoos is gruesome, a fate worse than death," Joyce Poole, the cofounder of Kenya-based ElephantVoices, a research and advocacy organization, told National Geographic. 

Claims about the planned wildlife export are almost impossible to verify, but news reports and information pieced together from conservation groups, veterinarians, citizens, and animal advocates suggest that some elephants are now on the verge of being flown to China, where they may end up in a safari park. 

The Backstory 

This murky saga began last November, when a local wildlife organization, the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF), sent out an alert that 34 elephants, 7 lions, and 10 sable antelopes had been captured in Hwange and would be sent to China.

But in December, Saviour Kasukuwere, Zimbabwe’s environment minister, told National Geographic in an email “We have not authorized any exports of elephants to China.”

In January 2015, the Guardian reported that Zimbabwe officials said the elephants, in fact,would be sent to China and France. 

In an email in February to National Geographic, Meng Xianlin, of the CITES management authority in China, denied that the elephants would be imported into his country. 

The French CITES authority also told National Geographic that France had no plan to import the elephants. 

In March, in an interview with National Geographic, Kasukuwere said that the Hwange calves would be relocated within Zimbabwe. But he also said that Zimbabwe authorities were looking for buyers and that if they received an “order,” they would export elephants accordingly. 

More recently, in another U-turn, the Telegraph reported that the elephants were destined for Chimelong Safari Park. Kasukuwere told the Telegraph that the elephants had been “tamed.” 

Kasukuwere also said that after five years, the elephants would return to “the forests of Zimbabwe.” 

Ainsley Hay, with the National Council of SPCAs, in South Africa, says that “almost all training of wild-caught elephants involves breaking them using horrific abuse, including beating, chaining, stretching, food deprivation, and social deprivation. 

“As these animals are destined for countries that have poorly controlled animal-welfare standards,” Hay says, “it’s safe to assume these calves will [have been] trained in this manner.” 

Following the story in the Telegraph, National Geographic contacted minister Kasukuwere; Walter Mzembi, the minister of tourism; Caroline Washaya-Moyo, a public relations official at ZimParks; and Meng Xialin to substantiate rumors as to the number of elephants, their destination, and the timing and manner of their export. No responses were received prior to publication. 

Airlifting Elephants 

How the elephants and lions will leave the country is unclear. 

One possibility is that they’ll be trucked to the airport in nearby Victoria Falls, or perhaps the one in Zimbabwe’s second city, Bulawayo. Or they could be flown directly out of Hwange. 

“The Hwange Game reserve airport is functioning,” wrote David Coltart, senator with Zimbabwe’s opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change. “It is in fact a long runway constructed with help from the U.S. a long time ago as one of its strategic long range bases. It could literally take a B52 bomber—it could easily take cargo aircraft.“ 

Hoole says she has sources posted at all these locations, waiting round-the-clock to document the departure. 

Any time elephants are transported by air, there are great risks, says Richard Ruggiero, Africa branch chief with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

“The challenges are: loading and unloading, the level of tranquilizers that keep them calm (they are stressed as hell during the operation), keeping them cool until you reach altitude, keeping their breathe-way open (trunk), and of course, they cannot move around and shift the center of gravity during flight, particularly take-off and landing.” 

Veterinarians and animal welfare groups in Zimbabwe say they’ve made numerous attempts to stop the export and have expressed their concerns to officials. 

Melanie Hood is the animal welfare director with Veterinarians for Animal Welfare Zimbabwe (VAWZ). She says that since December 2014, her group—in conjunction with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Zimbabwe—has sent several letters to the director general of the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority requesting a meeting about the young elephants. But “no reply has been received.” 

Hood also says that groups have requested permission to inspect the elephants, “together with people who we deem to be 'elephant experts'—but again no official confirmation or reaction to our request has been received. We continue to try.” 

Destination Chimelong 

Besides the Telegraph report, indications that the elephants may indeed be destined for Chimelong Safari Park can be found in an article published in April in Qingyuan Daily News. 

The report refers to the first phase of construction of the Qingyuan ZhangLong animal quarantine station having been completed and mentions plans to “import African elephant in July 2015.” 

Qingyuan is a prefecture-level city in Guangdong province, where Chimelong, billed as “the largest safari park housing the most species in the world,” is located. 

David Neale, of Animals Asia, a Hong-Kong based welfare organization that focuses on captive animal issues, among other causes, notes that “many animals, including elephants, are forced to perform demeaning and degrading tricks. They are forced to do so under pressure from handlers with handheld jab sticks. The circus performances are likely to cause many animals at Chimelong Safari Park a degree of suffering.” 

Chunmei Hu, who works at Nature University, an environmental center in Beijing, says some of the elephants will go to a park called Laodao Bay, in Zhangjiajie, a city in Hunan Province. 

Hu says the enclosures there are “so small” and that the elephants will have to perform. “I think it has terrible animal welfare.” She says she’ll monitor the elephants if and when they arrive.” 

In Zimbabwe, Jane High, one of the core group campaigning against the China export, wrote that she’s been “working with anybody and everybody trying to raise the profile of the disaster happening to our wild life. We’ve been through a lot here, but nothing has come so close to destroying my soul as this wildlife trade.”


Tread lightly on the Earth

Copyright 2007 @jvbigcats  All rights reserved


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