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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)

    The Species Seekers:  Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth by Richard Conniff is “a swashbuckling romp” that “brilliantly evokes that just-before Darwin era” (BBC Focus) and “an enduring story bursting at the seams with intriguing, fantastical and disturbing anecdotes” (New Scientist). “This beautifully written book has the verve of an adventure story” (Wall St. Journal)

    Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time by Richard Conniff  is “Hilariously informative…This book will remind you why you always wanted to be a naturalist.” (Outside magazine) “Field naturalist Conniff’s animal adventures … are so amusing and full color that they burst right off the page …  a quick and intensely pleasurable read.” (Seed magazine) “Conniff’s poetic accounts of giraffes drifting past like sail boats, and his feeble attempts to educate Vervet monkeys on the wonders of tissue paper will leave your heart and sides aching.  An excellent read.” (BBC Focus magazine)

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Posts Tagged ‘wildlife trafficking’

China Drops the Hammer on Tortoise Smugglers

Posted by Richard Conniff on August 19, 2016

A radiated tortoise in Madagascar (Photo: Insights/Getty Images)

A radiated tortoise in Madagascar (Photo: Insights/Getty Images)

by Richard Conniff/

Get caught smuggling illegal wildlife in most countries in the world, and you can expect a slap on the wrist. A very gentle slap at that. “Somebody could take an AK-47 and just shoot up a pod of pilot whales,” one frustrated investigator recently complained. “That’s the same as a traffic offense.” It’s why wildlife crime has become a $10 billion-a-year industry: It’s safer than robbing the bank. It’s more lucrative than selling drugs.

So it should be big news that China, the leading market for wildlife trafficking worldwide, has just handed out jail sentences ranging from 21 months to 11 years to seven defendants caught smuggling hundreds of Madagascar’s critically endangered radiated tortoises. “This sentencing sends a strong message to illegal wildlife dealers that the punishment for these activities will fit the severity of the crime,” said Brian D. Horne, a Wildlife Conservation Society herpetologist who provided expertise to the prosecution.

The sentencing is the result of an investigation that began with the 2015 arrest of an airport security worker at Guangzhou Baiyun Airport toting two backpacks containing 316 juvenile tortoises. The animals had come in on a flight from Madagascar, as part of the baggage of Chinese immigrant workers there. The animals were wrapped in tinfoil, a precaution to avoid x-ray detection during transit via commercial airlines.

The airport worker, who had access to the baggage area, agreed to cooperate with investigators, leading to the dismantling of the criminal ring. Investigators also seized a second shipment containing another 160 radiated tortoises. The plan was to deliver the animals to an apartment in Guangzhou being used as a breeding facility, in an attempt to Read the rest of this entry »

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

Rainforest Birds Do Battle in New York City Parks

Posted by Richard Conniff on August 1, 2015

(Photo: Brian Harkin for The New York Times)

(Photo: Brian Harkin for The New York Times)

A month or two back, I wrote about the devastating effects of the reliance on tropical birds for singing contests in Indonesia.  Today The New York Times reports that much the same thing is happening right here in New York City:

Ray Harinarain cut the lusty Hellcat engine of his Dodge Challenger and gently lifted his birdcage from the front seat.

Mr. Harinarain, a heating and air-conditioner repairman from Brooklyn, joined a procession of middle-aged men in fedoras and flat caps, cradling wood poles and cages the size of large shoe boxes, streaming into a pocket-size park in Richmond Hill, Queens, on a recent Sunday morning. The cages were blanketed in white coverlets, some trimmed with lace. Inside each one was a delicate songbird: a chestnut-bellied seed finch native to the northern parts of South America and the Caribbean.

Sundays are race days, though the events are not really races but speed-singing contests. Two cages each containing a male finch, whose fierce calls are triggered by an instinctive desire to woo females and defend turf, are hung on a pole about an inch apart. The birds are judged on the number of songs they sing. The first to reach 50 wins.

Ostensibly, it’s a battle of the birds. But …

Read the full story in The New York Times here.

Posted in Conservation and Extinction | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

An App To Help Cops Spot Illegal Wildlife

Posted by Richard Conniff on October 11, 2014

My latest for Takepart:

(Illustration: John Gould)

(Illustration: John Gould)

One of the unintended consequences of sending the United States military abroad is to promote illegal trafficking in wildlife. Young soldiers typically want souvenirs of their foreign service, and neither military patrol officers on bases abroad nor customs agents back home can usually tell whether, say, that fur hat is made from Eurasian lynx (illegal) or Corsac fox (not wonderful, but OK).

Heidi Kretser, a social scientist from the Wildlife Conservation Society, was living in upstate New York in 2008 when nearby Fort Drum was training and mobilizing 80,000 troops a year, many with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. She thought she could help with training programs, handouts, and a video about illegal wildlife products. But frequent turnover, especially among M.P.s, meant that it was difficult to train everyone, or make that training stick.

Later, she saw the problem firsthand in Afghanistan, where merchants coming onto military bases for weekly or monthly bazaars routinely sold fur coats from Eurasian lynx, skulls and horns of Marco Polo sheep, and even snow leopard pelts. Soldiers, contractors, and international aid workers also frequented the wildlife market known as “Chicken Street” in Kabul. Sweeps of bases by military police turned up hundreds of contraband wildlife products, and a survey back at Fort Drum found that 40 percent of soldiers had either purchased or seen other soldiers purchase wildlife products while abroad.

To help fix the problem, Kretser has produced a smartphone app called Wildlife Alert that gives law enforcement officers a mobile decision tree for figuring out whether or not a wildlife product from Afghanistan is legal. Writing in the journal Biological Conservation, Kretser and her WCS coauthors also announced the development of a similar app, called Wildlife Guardian, already being tried out by forest police and customs officers to address rampant illegal wildlife trafficking in China.

Neither app attempts to turn cops into taxonomists. The apps are merely tools, Kretser said, “that help people

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Environmental Issues | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

China (!) Leads Crackdown on Wildlife Trafficking

Posted by Richard Conniff on February 11, 2014

This report comes from CNN.  To put it in perspective, the announcement is undoubtedly timed to this morning’s opening of the Wildlife Trafficking Symposium in London.  (More on that below.)  Even so, it’s gratifying to see China take the lead against an illegal wildlife trafficking epidemic it has, up to now, largely tolerated and paid for:

A wildlife operation involving dozens of countries and organizations, seized more than three tons of ivory and a bevy of rare wildlife products as well as rare wood.

Operatives found rare animals — both living and dead — during the international, month-long operation.

The China-led transnational effort, codenamed Cobra II, aimed to crack down on illegal wildlife trade. Authorities recovered over 10,000 live European eels and pig-nosed turtles, as well as over 2,000 live snakes, according to Xinhua, China’s state-run news agency.

They also seized three tons of ivory, 36 rhino horns, and over 1,000 hides and skins from tigers, leopards and snakes as well as several hundred kilograms of pangolin scales from wildlife traffickers.

The operation included 27 other countries Read the rest of this entry »

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