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Podcast: Poaching Pop Quiz

[image credit: animalnational.com]

Why did I choose to do it like this?

Basically, I decided to interview my friend; a genetics student with a healthy interest in Conservation. I was interested in seeing just how much someone knew about the current goings on in the animal trafficking operations being undertaken around the world, and getting their opinion on what may have been the cause of such a thing.

Ideally, I would have loved to speak to an expert in such matters (either an expert in conservation, or an expert in Elephant behaviour like those I worked with in Thailand), but ultimately I decided that it would be more interesting to get the honest opinion of someone of the general public.

As I believe the key to helping the plight of animals affected by poaching, and other illegal animal trades, is mainly awareness, I wanted to see how much awareness and knowledge about things a regular person had.

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An Inspiration

I had the pleasure of meeting this lady for the span of a few hours in July of 2013; Lek Chailert. A figure leading up elephant rescue and elephant awareness from her position in the Elephant National Park in Thailand. Someone keen to show the world just how wonderful these creatures are, and just how  much of a loss it would be for everyone if they were suddenly all gone.

If I’m going to be honest, I did not know her name before meeting her. I did not know her name until I walked into the Elephant National Park to see a hand painted mural on the wall, a mural painted by school children from one of the nearby villages the Park supports. Her name was there, along with a quote… but I did not think that I would get to meet her. I learnt all about her work, and what she did, and from the stories that other people told about her I knew that she was something of a legend, especially in regards to the people who lived there and who knew her personally. When I did get the chance to meet her, I was overcome with excitement. She gave a talk, one of the nights I was there, on the skywalk in the park with the elephants still going about their nightime walks moving leisurely below us. She spoke about what she had seen, and what she had done, and her words more than anything made me realise just why creatures like elephants need our protection.

Except it’s not just elephants. Don’t get me wrong, she is not called the ‘Elephant Whisperer’ for nothing, but her work does not just stick tight to one species of creatures. In the park, living alongside the herd of elephants, were dogs, almost feral in the way they lived and the packs they formed, rescued from cities like Bangkok during the floods and from illegal traders. Each of the walkways was lined with little huts raised off the ground, in which slept the cats and the kittens; fed by humans, but otherwise left to roam free and be as natural as they were able to be. Peacocks strutted around, escaping their enclosures with a degree of cleverness that I had never seen before in a bird (except for my friend’s budgie, but that’s another story)… and when I was there, three tiny kittens arrived. Days old, found in a nearby village alongside their dead mother, who had been brought to the Park with the knowledge that they would be cared for.

It was, and still is, a place of peace for humans and animals of all kinds, from the large creatures with eyes that sang of unknown ages, right down to the smallest, youngest of creatures who had barely learnt to crawl. And all of it had come from Lek.

Her work has not been made known far outside the Thai borders, but her story is one of inspiration and it is nowhere near being over. The elephants she cares for are not victims of poaching (although the release of one of her elephants, Jungle Boy, was delayed during my stay there due to poaching activity in the land he was set to be released into, and Lek’s refusal to let such a thing happen), but the existence of this sanctuary can be used as an example by like minded people who wish to help those elephants which have survived the Ivory Trade, and those who wish to see no more harmed through it either.

Photo copyright Dani Globetrotter

Photo copyright Dani Globetrotter

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November 21, 2014 · 6:39 pm

Extremely Rare White Rhino Dies

The Northern White Rhino ‘Suni’ was found dead on the 17th October 2014 in his enclosure in Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy, aged 34 years. Suni had not fathered any offspring, and his death leaves only six of his species left on the planet. Of which, only one is a male. The death of such a beacon of hope does not spell for a good future of his subspecies.

The youngest male rhino, Suni at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya on Nov. 19, 2010.

[ link to the full story ]

It’s hard to suggest what could be done to help creatures like this rhino. This subspecies has little hope for the future at all, which is a sad thing but the truth is sometimes never pretty. Additionally, the fact that this rhino died at a peak adult age, of apparently natural reasons, does not suggest the a life in captivity suits creatures like this.

There is always going to be a problem of having animals like rhinos and elephants in captivity, which is a problem that has to be addressed if the populations ever get so low. For starters… I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you this, but elephants and rhinos are big creatures. I’ve stood next to an Asian elephant, and next to a fully grown female I believe that the distance from the top of her forehead to the base of her trunk was almost as tall as my entire height (and I’m an averaged sized 20 year old female). They are huge. Graceful, but huge, and from what I learned in Thailand, they are hard to care for. The amount of food they go through daily takes a lot of time and money to grow and prepare… and so it may not be something that a zoo, or any captive breeding programs are really capable of doing. Additionally their ranges are staggering, and their social behaviour is complex enough to sometimes compel large herds of the creatures over hundreds of kilometers for a reason that only they seem to know.

I don’t think that elephants and rhinos would ever be able to do well in captivity, in zoos or even in the National Elephant Park, which is the closest thing Elephants can get in Thailand to living back in the wild after a life of a domesticated creature. It’s a sad opinion to have, and upsetting as well… and I can only hope that things are done in time to stop it ever reaching a point like that. Suni died in captivity, because the last of his species are in captivity. Imagine if the same thing happened for the African elephant (either of the two species?)… or any of the other rhino species?

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Using Forensics to Identify Poaching Ranges;

In 2004, a method of extracting DNA from within tusks and horns of elephants and rhinos was produced. Now, ten years later, this method is being used by scientists in Asia. DNA is being extracted from ivory confiscated from illegal sources, and is being used to track back the range of the animal from which it originated. This method is proving to be key in identifying the poaching ‘hot spots’ of elephants and rhinos in Africa.

One publication of the story is available here.

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