African elephants are in trouble. Scientists estimate that Africa harbored up to 7 million elephants in the 1930s. Today, the population is below 300,000 – that’s less than 5% of historic numbers. Currently between 25,000 and 30,000 elephants are being killed each year, ensuring the functional extinction of this magnificent keystone species within a couple of decades.
Things are particularly dire in several countries in Central and East Africa, where large populations of elephants exist in countries with regional instability and porous international borders, and where ecotourism is the lifeblood of the economy. Every year in parks across the region, wildlife rangers are killed protecting elephants.
Over the last several months, a rising international coalition of some unlikely partners is giving new vitality to the fight against the ongoing slaughter of African elephants. My report from the front lines of the ivory wars in northern Kenya is scheduled to air this Sunday on “CBS Sunday Morning.”Here’s a clip.
There are four signs I can point to that suggest that the tide might have chance to turn for the future of these creatures.
Madagascar is one of the world’s most unusual countries — an iconic “hotspot” in every sense of the word. It has also been the site of devastating poverty and environmental destruction, accelerated in recent years by an ineffective, corrupt government.
Last month, I had the opportunity to meet Madagascar’s new president, the first democratically elected leader since a 2009 governmental coup. The meeting left me surprisingly optimistic about the future of the country’s natural heritage — and consequently, the well-being of its people.
David Crane is currently in the middle of riding the Tour d’Afrique, often cited as the world’s longest and toughest bike race. The four-month race, which began in Khartoum, Sudan and will end in Cape Town, South Africa, is 11,693 kilometers (7,266 miles) long.
David Crane, a CI supporter currently biking from Khartoum to Cape Town, poses with his bike in Sudan. (photo courtesy of David Crane)
Because of his passion for conservation, David is racing in part to raise money and awareness for CI. A version of this post was originally published on his blog, where you can read more posts and consider making a donation to support David and protect vulnerable ecosystems through CI’s work.
Ethiopia is a land of farmers.
As we bike through Ethiopia we’ve seen a lot of small villages and thousands of Ethiopian farmers. Even the kids are in the fields working (although they all come sprinting to the roads when the “farangi” or “white people” come biking by).
Around 81% of the population works in agriculture, and agriculture accounts for nearly 42% of GDP, as well as about 85% of exports (including their globally famous coffee). Yet Ethiopia is still thought of as a zone of food insecurity.
Through the implementation of conservation agreements, this initiative addresses over-harvesting by commercial fishermen and improves management of lakes, creeks and the surrounding forest — all while providing direct benefits to the indigenous and farmer communities who have committed to protect them.
On my most recent visit to eastern Colombia, I was gratified to see that the conservation agreements are continuing to have an impact — though they’re not without their challenges.
As the manager of Latin American programs for CI’s Conservation Stewards Program, part of my job is to pay periodic visits to the communities involved in these conservation agreements. In exchange for making specific conservation commitments, such as refraining from logging, communities receive specific benefits determined by the local people themselves, such as help improving community infrastructure or wages for patrolling forests or lakes in search of illegal activities.
On this trip, I wanted to talk to the women and men of two indigenous communities I did not visit the previous year. I was particularly interested in learning how they felt about the program and the main challenges they faced.
Mark Erdmann has been working closely with the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries on the development of Indonesia’s new regulation protecting its manta rays. Today on Human Nature, he reflects upon the ministry’s enlightened approach to valuing its marine resources and some of the field work which CI is now leading to further inform manta ray management in Indonesia.
Things just keep looking brighter for Indonesia’s long-suffering elasmobranchs, a subclass that includes sharks and rays.
A year ago, CI and partners celebrated the bold move of the Raja Ampat government in passing tough new legislation to create the first shark and ray sanctuary in the Coral Triangle — a decision that was largely driven by the government’s realization that its sharks are not only important for sustaining healthy fish stocks for its people, but also that sharks and rays are an incredibly valuable asset to its burgeoning marine tourism industry.
Shortly thereafter, our partners at MantaWatch and Coral Reef Alliance worked with the local government and dive operators in Komodo National Park to set up Indonesia’s second shark and ray sanctuary in that marine tourism hotspot.
Around the same time, the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries hosted the first national symposium on shark and ray conservation, and the minister himself appointed a working group to consider options for potentially listing Indonesia’s most threatened elasmobranchs as protected species.
Today, the minister of fisheries proudly announced the first legal product to emerge from that working group’s recommendations — full protection for both species of manta ray — in a gala launching ceremony in Jakarta, complete with a 20-foot manta balloon brought to the party by our partner WildAid.
Earlier this week, CI CEO Peter Seligmann spoke at Walmart’s 2014 Global Sustainability Milestones Meeting. CI has been partnering with Walmart for 10 years; a version of this post was originally published on Walmart’s The Green Room.
Conservation International Vice Chair Harrison Ford says it best: “Nature doesn’t need people. People need nature.”
Think about it. Could any of us survive without what nature provides us — fresh water, food, lifesaving medicines, fertile soil and natural pollinators? The answer is no.
Today, the majority of people on Earth live in cities, seemingly far removed from the sources of our food, water, energy and material goods. Yet it is all interconnected: a massive storm in Asia or a drought in Africa can threaten the supply chains that Walmart customers depend upon.
Walmart understands this, and 10 years ago the company led the way by embracing the concept of sustainability and developing goals around renewable energy, zero waste and supply chains. As the world’s largest retailer, when Walmart takes an action it can have a larger impact than many nations.
I was so busy watching the pangolin happily slurp up dead ants that it took me a few minutes to realize it was missing one of its back legs. I was at the Pangolin Rehabilitation Center outside of Phnom Penh, which CI helped open in 2012 to provide a temporary home for “scaly anteaters” like this one that was rescued from the illegal wildlife trade.
Once prevalent across much of Africa and Asia, pangolins are among the most trafficked animals in the world. Their scales are popular components of traditional Chinese medicine, and their meat, blood and fetuses are considered delicacies in parts of Asia.
Animals that end up at the Pangolin Rehabilitation Center have often been subjected to horrible treatment. After they have been nursed back to health at the center, many can be released back into the forest. However, those that have lost limbs due to injuries from snares — and are now unlikely to survive in the wild — reside permanently at the center.
The illegal wildlife trade not only leads to the decline of species like pangolins — as well as elephants, rhinos, tigers and many others. It is an immensely complicated practice that damages important habitats, jeopardizes ecotourism and other activities that people depend on for their livelihood andthreatens international security by funding terrorist and other criminal groups.
This week in London, two important meetings are focusing on finding real solutions to this immense problem. The Zoological Society of London is hosting a symposium put on by United for Wildlife — a collaboration created by the Royal Foundation, which is led by the Duke of Cambridge (Prince William). This partnership brings CI and six other conservation organizations together to discuss lessons learned and determine the best ways to engage young people in the issue and ultimately end the wildlife trade.
After a 26-hour journey across Pacific swells, some 550 kilometers (342 miles) from the Costa Rican mainland, the cloud-covered peak of Cerro Iglesias on Cocos Island became visible from the bow of our ship. As we steamed ahead, Cocos Island and its lush rainforest grew larger in front of us.
Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and by myths of hidden pirate treasures, the island is also a natural jewel. The following morning we got to appreciate its most breathtaking wonder: the teeming ocean life inhabiting the blue waters around the island.
One of the first things you realize about Borneo is how difficult it can be to land a plane. On my first trip there, our plane circled the provincial capital of Palangkaraya for a half hour before a window in the smoke opened long enough to land.
Like many places in the tropics, Borneo is burning — and the consequences are widespread.
Before this trip, I’d known of the plight of orangutans, thousands of which have died as their forest habitat disappears. I also knew about the outsized role that clearing of these forests plays in driving climate change. I was less prepared for the impact that damage to these ecosystems has on human health.
For me, the burning forests were a nuisance to my visit. For the locals, they were a matter of life and death.
Since CI was founded 27 years ago today, growth and innovation have been critical to bring the organization closer to achieving our ultimate goal: protecting and restoring nature for the sake of people everywhere.
In that spirit, we’re excited to announce that Dr. M Sanjayan — visionary scientist and conservation thought leader — is joining our team as executive vice president overseeing development and communications strategy. Sanjayan comes to us after 16 years at The Nature Conservancy; he discusses what drives his conservation passion below.
Q: What inspired you to join CI’s team at this time?
A: CI is a bold yet nimble organization working in some of the most amazing places on Earth, and its mission of saving nature to ensure human communities thrive resonates deeply with me.
This is a crucial moment not just for the organization but also for the conservation movement itself. For me, loving nature comes easily, but engaging all segments of society in conservation requires a much broader framework. The upcoming launch of CI’s new campaign will strongly anchor the conservation of nature as necessary and essential for the persistence and improvement of human life on our planet.
I suppose I also have a personal bone to pick, too. You know, my family really wanted me to become a doctor. Shortly after receiving my Ph.D. in biology, my grandmother began introducing me as “a doctor, but not the kind who helps people.” I’d like to prove her wrong.