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2016 in Retrospect: Poaching at all-time High, but the number of Tigers still Rose

Tiger vs Man in the forests of India, credits-pixabay

New Delhi, December 28, 2016: It’s not been a great year for wildlife. More tigers and leopards were poached in 2016 than in any year of the previous decade, pangolins were killed in the hundreds while thousands of marine animals perished — this, due to the debilitating effect of climate change. Yet, the good news is that the number of tigers still rose.

“Tigers have increased but in the sphere of protection, this year has been worse for animals, including pangolins,” Shekhar Niraj, Head of TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network in alliance with the WWF, told IANS.

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Interestingly, an RTI application revealed that the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau has no information of poachers arrested or shot, the weapons used by them, or the numbers poached.

However, IANS managed to piece together information from different independent sources. The records of the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) show that at least 129 tigers and 419 leopards died in 2016 as compared to 91 tigers and 397 leopards in 2015. Of these, at least 50 tigers and 127 leopards were poached, a record in the last 10 years.


“These numbers are not accurate, these are only those reported or caught. The actual figures would be higher,” WPSI programme manager Tito Joseph told IANS.

Over 20 elephants, 18 rhinos, multiple bears (sloth, Asiatic brown and black), two snow leopards and several sea-cucumber, which are highly sought-after in Southeast Asia, were either caught being poached or their harvest such as skin and claws was seized till November 2016.

“Fifty leopards, mostly from Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, and at least eight elephants died in road or train accidents alone,” Joseph said. He added that a large number of animals had died not just because of poaching but due to negligence in the absence of proper management plans.

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Also, nature’s wrath, inspired by man-induced climate change, played its part, killing at least 1,800 endangered aquatic and marine animals in first three months alone.

The year, in fact, had begun with the washing ashore of the carcasses of 74 short-finned pilot whales in the Gulf of Mannar in Tamil Nadu, a Bryde’s whale in Mumbai, hundreds of Olive Ridley turtles in Odisha and several Gangetic and ocean dolphins. This apart, over 250 animals, including 20 rhinos, perished in Assam’s Kaziranga National Park due to floods in August.

Ironically, all this happened in the year when India hosted “Third Asian Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation”, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged to protect the country’s feline population. The good news here is that India is now home to 2,226 tigers — 70 per cent of those in the wild in Asia. Prakash Javadekar, then the Environment and Forest Minister, was quoted at the conference as saying that the number could be as high as 2,500.

Meanwhile, the “17th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CoP17 CITES)” held in South Africa in September barred tiger farming (or breeding) and listed pangolins in CITES Appendix I for their protection, considering that the species is now threatened with extinction.

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For the pangolin, a nocturnal animal hunted for its expensive scales used in Chinese medicine, the year was ugly. Over 20 instances of the seizure of several kilos of its scales were reported across the country. In New Delhi alone, the CBI, in October, seized 86 kg of pangolin scales.

An adult pangolin produces 2-3 kgs of scales a year while the young produce about 500 gms.

Thus, it’s little wonder that WWF’s Living Planet Report released in October said the world may lose 68 percent of its wildlife by 2020 — the possible prelude to “the sixth mass extinction”.

The report says that about 41 per cent of mammals, 46 per cent reptiles, 57 per cent amphibians and 70 per cent freshwater fish are “threatened with extinction” in India. Four of the 385 species of mammals are already extinct in India.

The United Nations Environment Programme and Interpol in June reported that the environmental crime industry — worth $258 billion — was the fastest-growing among crime syndicates.


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Chipangali Wildlife Orphanage in Zimbabwe Educates Against Poaching

The Chipangali Wildlife Orphanage is home to 25 animal species, some endangered, some rescued from poachers

poaching, chipangali wildlife orphanage
Animals outdoors at Chipangali Wildlife Orphanage, near Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city on April 20, 2019. The orphanage is home to 25 species, some endangered, some rescued from poachers. VOA

An animal orphanage in Zimbabwe is one of the organizations leading efforts to ensure poaching and development do not wipe out the wildlife of the southern African nation.

About half an hour drive southeast of Bulawayo is a special orphanage caring for abandoned and injured animals. The Chipangali Wildlife Orphanage is home to 25 animal species, some endangered, some rescued from poachers.

Vivian and Paddy Wilson established the orphanage in 1973 and a second generation now runs it. Chipangali’s co-director Nicky Wilson explains what motivated her in-laws to begin rescuing wildlife.

“(When) Chipangali was formed there was only CROW (Centre for Rehabilitation of Wildlife), which was in Durban (South Africa) and Daphne Sheldrick Orphanage in Kenya. There was no other places where you would put animals that wouldn’t survive in the wild,” Wilson said.

Animals are brought to Chipangali after being injured, seized, or orphaned, says Wilson. Some are later released into the wild, and some are not.

“Some birds might have flown into power lines and are missing part of their wings, they won’t be able to be released. We also have baby animals, sometimes if they are reared, they become too tame and assume that every human is friendly, unfortunately that is not the case in our world. So, they will stay here permanently and utilize them for our education,” Wilson said.

The oldest resident of the orphanage is a crocodile rescued four decades ago from a community angry it was eating their goats and cattle.

The locals wanted to kill the crocodile, believed to be in its 90s, but at Chipangali it was made part of the education program for visitors. Wilson shows visiting journalists a display of animal fetuses, removed from mothers that died in poacher’s snares.

Nicky Wilson, co-director Chipangali Wildlife Orphanage about half an hour drive southeast of Bulawayo a special orphanage caring for the abandoned and injured offspring of local animals on April 20, 2019. VOA

“We are obviously trying to educate mainly locals and anyone who comes visit us here at Chipangali into the importance of Zimbabwe wildlife heritage. Tourists would not come and visit Zimbabwe if it weren’t for the big five: elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard and then rhino. Because without our wildlife, they wouldn’t come to Zimbabwe. So we are trying to tell people to look after our animals,” Wilson said.

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Since its creation, Chipangali Wildlife Orphanage has rescued and released numerous animals into the nearby Matobo National Park. They include several troops of vervet monkeys and baboons, more than 30 pangolins, five leopards, 20 cheetahs, and various antelopes, small carnivores, and birds of prey. (VOA)