strange behaviors

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  • Richard Conniff writes about behavior, in humans and other animals, on two, four, six, and eight legs, plus the occasional slither.

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Posts Tagged ‘rhinos’

A Plan to Mine Coal in the Birthplace of Rhino Conservation

Posted by Richard Conniff on March 21, 2015

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(Photo: Richard Conniff)

My latest for Takepart:

A few years ago, I was reporting a story about South Africa’s war on rhinos. I suppose you could call it “Vietnam’s war” or “Asia’s war,” since that’s where most of the rhino horn ends up, to supply a bogus medicinal trade. But let’s face it: South Africa’s own political and financial elite tolerate the poaching of more than 1,000 rhinos in the nation every year, probably because they profit from it.

In any case, the obvious place to start my reporting was the birthplace of rhino conservation: Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, in the coastal state of Kwazulu-Natal. This is where an earlier generation of South Africans saved the white rhino from certain extinction, carefully breeding the species back from just 20 animals in the world at the end of the 19th century to a population of 20,000 today.

In 1895, they also designated Hluhluwe-iMfolozi (pronounced “shluh-shloo-ee”) Africa’s first nature preserve.

This should be a great national heritage, and also a source of cultural pride: The broad river valleys and rolling highlands of Hluhluwe-iMfolozi were once the favorite hunting ground of Shaka, the storied Zulu warrior king. The park is home not just to white rhinos but also to critically endangered black rhinos, as well as elephants, lions, leopards, buffalo, and 340 species of birds.

But now Ibutho Coal, a little-known mining company Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Environmental Issues | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Legal Rhino Horn Trade? Both Sides Say Save Rhinos in Wild First

Posted by Richard Conniff on February 3, 2015

(Photo: courtesy of IUCN/ David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation)

(Photo: courtesy of IUCN/ David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation)

At a recent mediation session in Cape Town, activists for and against legalized trade in rhino horns met to find common ground on saving rhinos in the wild.  Both were mainly worried by the rising toll of animals being poached in South Africa, up to 1215 last year, from almost none in 2007.  Here’s an excerpt from the report in South Africa’s Daily Maverick:

All participants agreed that, in the light of likely voting patterns when CITES members next meet in Cape Town (in March 2016), it is unrealistic to expect any changes to the legislation for the trade in rhino products. Indeed, it appears that even if successfully motivated, legalisation in the trade of rhino products would not happen within the next decade, at which point, based on current poaching statistics, rhinos in the wild could well

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Posted in Business Behaviors, Conservation and Extinction | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Are Namibia’s Rhinos Now Under Siege?

Posted by Richard Conniff on December 2, 2014

Early this year in The New York Times, I wrote an op-ed in praise of Namibia’s work in restoring populations of endangered black rhinos and, more important, in avoiding the poaching nightmare taking place next door in South Africa (on track to lose 1100 rhinos this year).  Here’s part of that piece:

Daniel Alfeus //Hawaxab-- aka Boxer

Daniel Alfeus //Hawaxab– aka Boxer

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, it is now home to 1,750 of the roughly 5,000 black rhinos surviving in the wild … In neighboring South Africa, government officials stood by haplessly as poachers slaughtered almost a thousand rhinos last year alone. Namibia lost just two.

But a new report says the poaching situation there has dramatically worsened. Here’s how the story begins, from Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism:

The air over Sesfontein this time of year is usually a peculiar metallic hue, tinged by the talcum-fine dust whipped by the harsh desert wind blowing from the Skeleton Coast, 250 kilometres away to the west.

But today, the white heat seemed bleaker than ever, and another metallic taste stirred in the air: that of blood, redolent of greed and betrayal, of witchcraft and a strange death by anthrax. Boxer was dead.

As the oldest and most experienced tracker of the three-man Save the Rhino Trust’s (SRT) Damara-speaking team, Daniel Alfeus //Hawaxab – aka Boxer – was by all accounts an exemplary employee. At age 37, he had spent his entire adult life looking out for the world’s last free-roaming black rhinos of the Kunene region.

His knowledge of the rugged mountains and deep valleys, watered by secret fountains where the last free black rhinos live, played a major role in the recovery of their numbers after the 1980s slaughter during the South African occupation that left fewer than 20 animals alive. Their numbers now are officially kept secret to deter poachers – but the secrecy also serves to obscure the true state of affairs.

For 20 years, after the last reported case at Mbkondja in 1993, there had been no rhino poaching, as the SRT’s tactics of constantly patrolling the rhino ranges kept the poachers at bay. But on Christmas Day 2012,

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Posted in Conservation and Extinction | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

How to Survive in the Desert? Eat Poison.

Posted by Richard Conniff on August 20, 2013

Gemsbok in Namibia (Photo: Dana Allen/Wilderness Safaris)

Gemsbok in Namibia (Photo: Dana Allen/Wilderness Safaris)

The desert has never been an easy place to make a living. There’s not usually much rain, and the vegetation is sparse and runty. Yet, when I was traveling not long ago in the arid landscape of Namibia, on the southwest coast of Africa, there was wildlife everywhere.

The animals seemed to have adapted to the desert in ways that flouted their very nature. One day, for instance, I watched as a giraffe spread out its front legs and canted its long neck down, not up, to browse on a stunted little thing known, unpromisingly, as the smelly shepherd’s tree.

Later, we stopped at one of the big clumps of milk bush that dot the landscape like haystacks in a Monet painting. The milk bush is actually a succulent, Euphorbia damarana, and it’s found only in this region.

Makumbi Swenyeho, a wildlife guide at Desert Rhino Camp, where I was staying, snapped open one of the pipe-like stems, which promptly bled a white latex liquid. It’s poisonous, he said, and effective enough that Bushmen hunters use it …  to read the rest of this story, click here.

Posted in Food & Drink | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Fighting Back in the New War on Rhinos

Posted by Richard Conniff on October 20, 2011

Here’s the story I reported from South Africa earlier this year.  It’s now out in the November Smithsonian:

Johannesburg’s international airport is an easy place to get lost in the crowd, and that’s what a 29-year-old Vietnamese man named Xuan Hoang was hoping to do one day in March last year—just lie low till he could board his flight home.  The police dog sniffing down the line of passengers didn’t worry him; he’d checked his baggage through to Ho Chi Minh City.  But behind the scenes, police were also manning the x-ray scanners on flights to Vietnam, believed to be the epicenter of a new war on rhinos.  And when Hoang’s bag appeared on the screen, they saw the unmistakable shape of rhinoceros horns—six of them, weighing more than 35 pounds and worth up to $500,000.

Investigators suspected the contraband might be linked to a poaching incident a few days earlier on a game farm in Limpopo Province, on the country’s northern border.  “We have learned over time, as soon as a rhino goes down, in the next two or three days the horns will leave the country,” said police Col. Johan Jooste of South Africa’s national priority crime unit, when I interviewed him recently in Pretoria.

The Limpopo rhinos had been killed in a “chemical poaching,” meaning that hunters, probably traveling by helicopter, shot them with a dart gun loaded with an overdose of veterinary tranquilizers.  As the price of rhino horn has soared, said Jooste, a short, thickly-built bull of a cop, so has the involvement of sophisticated criminal syndicates.

“The couriers are like drug mules, specifically recruited to come into South Africa on holiday.  All they know is that they need to pack for one or two days. They come in here with minimal contact details, sometimes with just a mobile phone, and they meet with guys providing the horns. They discard the phone so there’s no way to trace it to any other people.”

Police were not sure they would be able to send Hoang away for serious jail time, much less get to the professionals who had hired him. South African courts often require police not just to catch someone smuggling rhino horns, but actually connect the horns to a specific poaching incident.   “In the past,” said Jooste, “we needed to physically fit a horn on a skull to see if we had a match.  But that was not always possible, because we didn’t have the skull, or it was cut too cleanly.”

Taking the sample for DNA analysis

Police sent the horns confiscated at the airport to Cindy Harper, head of the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the University of Pretoria. Getting a match with DNA testing had never worked in the past. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Conservation and Extinction | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »