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    Every Creeping Thing: True Tales of Faintly Repulsive Wildlife: “Conniff is a splendid writer–fresh, clear, uncondescending, and with never a false step; one can’t resist quoting him.” (NY Times Book Review)

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Posts Tagged ‘rhino’

South Africa Busts (Another) Major Rhino Poaching Syndicate

Posted by Richard Conniff on September 19, 2014


South Africa’s “Hawks” anti-poaching squad has broken up another major rhino poaching syndicate.  The question is whether they can bring them to trial.  The Hawks made a similar splash when they busted the “Musina Mafia” poaching gang in 2010, but the suspects have yet to come to trial four years later.

Here’s the story on the new arrests, from The Citizen:

The accused, wearing a white collared shirt and black formal pants, exited the court building cuffed  hand  and foot.

The arrest formed part of an operation led by the Hawks, who pounced on the alleged gang boss and nine other syndicate members simultaneously in various parts of the country during an arrest mission.

The alleged head of the syndicate was nabbed in front of court as he was due to appear on charges of illegal possession of scheduled substances and firearms.

The Citizen learnt that among the members arrested is the alleged right-hand-man, a Warrant Officer for the Organised Crime Unit in Pretoria, as well as the alleged kingpin’s wife, attorney, brother, a pilot and a professional poacher.

Nine of members of the syndicate were arrested, while one

Read the rest of this entry »

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A Trophy Hunt That’s Good for Rhinos

Posted by Richard Conniff on January 20, 2014

(Illustration: Liam Barrett)

(Illustration: Liam Barrett)

My latest, for The New York Times:

Let’s stipulate up front that there is no great sport in hunting a black rhinoceros, especially not in Namibia’s open countryside. The first morning we went out tracking in the northern desert there, we nosed around in vehicles for several hours until our guides spotted a rhino a half mile off. Then we hiked quietly up into a high valley. There, a rhino mom with two huge horns stood calmly in front of us next to her calf, as if triceratops had come back to life, at a distance of 200 yards. We shot them, relentlessly, with our cameras.

Let’s also accept, nolo contendere, that trophy hunters are “coldhearted, soulless zombies.” That’s how protesters put it following the recent $350,000 winning bid for the right to trophy hunt a black rhino in Namibia. Let’s acknowledge, finally, that we are in the middle of a horrific global war on rhinos, managed by criminal gangs and driven by a perverse consumer appetite for rhino horn in Southeast Asia.

Even so, auctioning the right to kill a black rhino in Namibia is an entirely sound idea, good for conservation and good for rhinos in particular.

Here’s why: Namibia is just about the only place on earth to have gotten conservation right for rhinos and, incidentally, a lot of other wildlife. Over the past 20 years, it has methodically repopulated one area after another as its rhino population has steadily increased. As a result, Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Conservation and Extinction, Environmental Issues | Tagged: , , , | 12 Comments »

Why Asia is Eating Wildlife to Extinction

Posted by Richard Conniff on November 14, 2013

As my previous blog item on the ivory crush suggests, the real trick to stop poaching of wildlife is to reach the customers, the end users, and help them see that their status symbols are in fact a mark of shame, and their folk medicines (like ours) prone to fraud and superstition.

Sonny Le

Sonny Le

In this article, Sonny Le tries to get across just that message in his own family.  Le is an immigrant from Vietnam who is now a communications instructor at San Francisco State University.  This is his account of his first trip home since 1991.

My weeks-old youngest brother’s fever was not responding to conventional medicine. So my mother decided to use what she believed had worked for her four older children. She ground the tiger tooth in a small stone mortar, added a couple of teaspoons of water, then spoon-fed my brother the milky-white liquid.

He died the next day. In a fit of rage, my father took the tiger tooth and threw it into the river a few meters from our back door.

Tiger teeth and claws sold as amulets and charms to ward off evil spirits Photo: Wild Asia

Tiger teeth and claws sold as amulets and charms to ward off evil spirits
Photo: Wild Asia

The tiger tooth was a family heirloom, given to my parents by my relatively rich saw mill-owning maternal grandparents in the Mekong Delta town of Rạch Giá as a wedding present. I wore this very tiger tooth around my neck the first two years of my life. It was believed to not only possess medicinal properties, but also the power to ward off ‘evil spirits,’ from which I needed protection as the first-born son.

According to legend, tigers once roamed the forested swamps of the Mekong Delta region and the tooth came from one of those tigers whose spirits now lorded over the underworld. In reality, that ‘tiger’ tooth could have come from a water buffalo, a wild boar, or even a big dog. No one ever asked why or how those tigers were killed, or if they ever existed.
Egrets in Tràm Chim National Park, Vietnam Mekong Delta

Egrets in Tràm Chim National Park, Vietnam Mekong Delta

When we moved to a rural village outside Rạch Giá, we discovered a few pairs of migrating white egrets had built nests in a cluster of melaleuca trees (cây tràm) on our land. Everyday my brother and I couldn’t wait to check on the nests. We would snatch the eggs as soon as they were laid. We even managed to shoot down a few birds with a slingshot. After a few years we noticed the egrets no longer came back, but didn’t understand why.

We were poor farmers whose diets consisted mostly of vegetables and fish. We raised chickens and pigs, but they were investments, our savings. The bird eggs and the occasional birds, snakes and turtles, even field rats, were a real treat. When we caught fish, we caught and ate everything, big and small. During the flooding season, the most-prized fish were the baby ones: no bones. The most sought-after baby fish were the snakehead.
To make a meal consisting of baby snakeheads, our family would essentially wipe out four or five broods of future snakeheads, the salmon of the Mekong Delta.

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