Monthly Archives: March 2012

Seven arrested in US crackdown on rhino horn trade


US officials have announced the arrest of seven people in a crackdown on the illegal global trade in endangered black rhinoceros horns.

Arrests were made across the country over recent days in “Operation Crash,” which involved multiple law enforcement agencies, the US Department of Justice said in a statement on Thursday.

A Chinese citizen, Jin Zhao Feng, was arrested in Los Angeles and is accused of shipping dozens or more rhino horns to China. The horns are used in traditional Asian medicine, regardless of fears that poaching is driving the huge African animal to extinction.

Also arrested were four alleged members of a US-based trafficking ring that supplied Feng with the horns. They were charged with conspiracy and violation of laws protecting endangered species.

Searches of one of the alleged suppliers, Wade Steffen, who was arrested in Texas, turned up 37 rhino horns, as well as $337,000 in cash, US officials said. Additional searches by agents pointed to the lucrative nature of the illegal business.

“Agents found rhinoceros horns, cash, bars of gold, diamonds and Rolex watches. Approximately $1 million in cash was seized and another $1 million seized in gold ingots,” the statement said.

Another two men were arrested in the sweep, one of them in New Jersey after he allegedly purchased horns, and another, an antiques expert, in New York, where he was charged with trafficking horns and creating fake documents.

The antiques expert, David Hausman, allegedly purchased a taxidermied rhinoceros head from an undercover officer “and was later observed sawing off the horns in a motel parking lot,” the Justice Department said.

“The rhino is an animal of prehistoric origin that is facing possible extinction because of an illegal trade for its horns on the black market that is driven by greed,” said Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general for the environment and natural resources division of the US Justice Department.

“The rhino is protected under both US and international law, and we are taking aggressive action to protect the rhino by investigating and vigorously prosecuting those who are engaged in this brutal trade,” Moreno wrote.

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Name mess: MP allowed cheetah ‘hunting’ even after extinction


The admission of guilt may have come a little late in the day, yet it’s worth taking note of. For 18 long years after the cheetah was officially declared extinct in the country, Madhya Pradesh continued to issue notifications allowing its hunting.

All because the fastest land animal was known in common parlance as the panther, and the gazetteers carried the confusion to the record books.

The embarrassing revelation was made in the Assembly by the government, which admitted that limited hunting of the cheetah was officially allowed in MP till 1970.

The last cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) in India was killed in 1947 and it was officially declared extinct in 1952.

Forest Minister Sartaj Singh told the Assembly in a written reply that the cheetah in the gazettes was actually the panther (Panthera pardus). The panther, the cheetah and the Hindi term “tendua” were used as synonyms. He claimed the then officials were aware that the carnivore had been declared extinct.

The question was asked by BJP MLA Premnarayan Thakur, who wanted to know what steps, if any, the government had taken to arrest the decline in numbers.

He was told that “over hunting” and lack of prey base coupled with growth of agriculture in its habitat were the reasons behind the animal getting extinct.

Fittingly enough, two sites in MP, the Kuno-Palpur and Nauradehi wildlife sanctuaries, have been chosen for re-introduction of the animal. The third possible site is the Shahgarh landscape in neighbouring Rajasthan.

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Texas man accused of smuggling rhino horns


A man from Hico is among people around the U.S. who face charges of trafficking in endangered rhinoceros horns.

Wade Steffen, 32, was being held Monday at a federal holding facility in Waco, where he was waiting to be moved to Los Angeles to face charges resulting from “Operation Crash.”

This multi-agency undercover investigation targets alleged traffickers in the black market trade of endangered rhinoceros horn.

Poaching of African rhinos accelerated in recent years with false rumors out of China and Vietnam that the horns can be used to cure cancer, said Special Agent Mike Merida of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office in Fort Worth.

Merida confirmed that Steffen had competed in rodeos and that he was first stopped Feb. 9 in California.

Officials said the undercover operation was forced into the open when Steffen, his wife and mother were found with $337,000 in their luggage at a Long Beach airport.

Merida said Steffen was allowed to continue back to Texas where he was arrested Feb. 18 at his home in Hico. The arrest warrant, Merida added, was issued by federal court officials in California.

During their investigation, wildlife officials said they intercepted at least 18 shipments of rhino horns from the Steffen family and the owner of a Missouri auction house that trades in live and stuffed exotic animals, according to court records.

Agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) participated in the investigation.

In additional searches conducted by FWS and ICE, agents found rhinoceros horns, cash, bars of gold, diamonds and Rolex watches.  Approximately $1 million in cash was seized and another $1 million seized in gold ingots.

Steffen’s wife and mother weren’t arrested, but Merida said the investigation was continuing.

Other suspects, however, were arrested in New York, Newark and Los Angeles.

“The rhino is an animal of prehistoric origin that is facing possible extinction because of an illegal trade for its horns on the black market that is driven by greed,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice.  “The rhino is protected under both U.S. and international law, and we are taking aggressive action to protect the rhino by investigating and vigorously prosecuting those who are engaged in this brutal trade.”

If convicted, maximum penalties under these charges are up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for conspiracy; five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for Lacey Act violations; and up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine for violations of the Endangered Species Act.

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Forest staff in cahoots with tree fellers



ITAHARI: Forest staffers are cooking up a story to give clean chit to forest users’ committee members who were involved in deforestation at Ramdhuni Community Forest located in Mahendranagar of Sunsari.

More than 35 trees were felled in the forest over the past six months under the leadership of acting Chairman Bikram Subba and Secretary Bhim Rai of the users committee.

A team of Bhola Yadav, chief, Mahendranagara Area Forest Office, was tasked with probing into the case. However, the team has been trying to dismiss the case

by making time delay in

the probe.

Interestingly, the team has recently prepared a report claiming that the trees had fallen naturally.

The team had reached the incident site a few days ago and prepared a report after evidences of deforestation were destroyed.

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Angola: Sea Turtle Continues Threatened With Extinction Along Coastline


Luanda — The direct capture of sea turtles and destruction of their nests, especially perpetrated by fishermen along the coast of Angola, continues placing this species under threat of extinction, Angop has learnt.

The concern was expressed Monday by the secretary general of the Mayombe Environmental Network, Rafael Neto.

Rafael Neto said that the sea turtles continue being the “breadwinner” of some families who sell their meat and eggs, in addition to make their shells ornamental pieces .

To counter the situation, mainly in September to March, the period the female turtles come ashore to nest, the environmentalists and ecologists of Angola step up awareness campaigns among the communities living along the coast.

Under “Kitabanga” project drafted by Faculty of Science of Agostinho Neto University, aimed at conservation of turtles, Mayombe network, as partner, acts in various fronts so that the risks are reduced.

This pilot project, expected to cover other communities along the Angolan coastline, has already benefited the communities residents in Barra do Kwanza, Cabo Ledo, Ramiros, Palmerinhas and other recently created localities.

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Genetics of endangered African monkey suggest troubles from warming climate


Public release date: 28-Feb-2012
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Contact: Jim Barlow
University of Oregon

Genetics of endangered African monkey suggest troubles from warming climate

University of Oregon scientist says drill face increasing threats from both climate change and hunters

IMAGE: Mandrillus leucophaeus, or drill, are already are overhunted and rare, but now could face the additional pressures of warming temperatures, based on information culled from their genes and their homeland’s…

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EUGENE, Ore. — (Feb. 29, 2012) — A rare and endangered monkey in an African equatorial rainforest is providing a look into our climatic future through its DNA. Its genes show that wild drills (Mandrillus leucophaeus), already an overhunted species, may see a dramatic population decline if the forest dries out and vegetation becomes sparser amid warming temperatures, researchers report.

Looking for clues amid 2,076 base pairs of mitochondrial DNA — genes passed down along female lineages — researchers discovered genetic signs that coincide with the conditions that mirror current climate projections for the equator around the globe in the next 100 years. Also examined were the region’s fossil and pollen records.

“The drills went through a large population collapse — as much as 15-fold,” said Nelson Ting, a professor of anthropology at the University of Oregon. Ting is the lead author of a study placed online ahead of regular publication in the journal Ecology and Evolution. “This occurred sometime around the mid-Holocene, which was about 3,000 to 5,000 years ago.”

Ting and 10 other researchers — representing institutions in the United States, United Kingdom, Nigeria and Germany — gathered feces of drills in the Cross-Sanaga-Bioko Coastal forests that stretch across portions of Nigeria, Bioko Island (Equatorial Guinea) and Cameroon. The extracted DNA provided the first genetic information from this species, which is found only in that region.

The species also is struggling for survival because of poaching and by habitat loss due to logging and cultivation activities. Drill meat also is a valued food; hunters often shoot them en masse. Protecting drill populations was the top priority of the African Primate Conservation Action Plan developed in 1996 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Despite the designation, Ting said, “hunting continues and is the much more immediate danger facing the drill.”

The base pairs examined came from 54 samples of DNA. Base pairs are made up of adenine, thymine, guanine and cytosine. While DNA is the blueprint for life, examining the sequences of these chemicals also provides a roadmap into any organism’s past. “Looking at its modern genetic diversity, you can infer changes in past population size,” Ting said.

In the mid-Holocene, temperatures across equatorial Africa were hotter and dryer, with a reduction of forest cover that the drill need for survival. The ecology of the region also includes multiple other species found only there. The research, Ting said, is among emerging work focusing on past climate conditions in equatorial areas. Many studies have been done on conditions in both temperate and arctic regions.

The findings carry conservation implications, Ting said. “We could see many of these equatorial forests becoming very arid. Forest will be lost as vegetation changes to adapt to dryer conditions. Our findings show that this type of animal, which already is very much endangered because of hunters, would not be able to deal with the level of climate changes that could be coming.”

What is needed to protect this little understood species are measures that reduce the destruction of the forest habitat and step up protection against poachers, said Ting, who is co-director of the UO’s molecular anthropology group and a member of the UO Institute of Ecology and Evolution and UO Institute of Cognitive and Decision Sciences.

“Professor Ting’s research is helping us push the boundaries of our knowledge about wildlife habitats through genetic studies of these rare and endangered monkeys,” said Kimberly Andrews Espy, vice president for research and innovation. “The University of Oregon is a leader in developing new technologies for analyzing and mapping DNA in organisms and crops. Studying the genetics of these rare drill could lead to new approaches to conservation.”


The other co‑authors on the paper were Christos Astaras of the University of Oxford, United Kingdom; Gail Hearn and Shaya Honarvar of Drexel University in Philadelphia; Joel Corush, a research assistant in the UO molecular anthropology group; Andrew S. Burrell of New York University; Naomi Phillips of Arcadia University in Glenside, Pa.; Bethan J. Morgan of the San Diego Zoo Global Institute for Conservation Research and the University of Stirling, United Kingdom; Elizabeth L. Gadsby, a founder of Pandrillus, a non‑profit, non‑government organization working for conservation in Nigeria; Ryan Raaum of Lehman College and City University of New York Graduate Center, West Bronx, N.Y.; and Christian Roos of the Gene Bank of Primates and Primate Genetics Laboratory, German Primate Center, Gottingen, Germany.

The University of Iowa and the German Primate Center primarily supported the research. Other funding contributors were the Offield Family Foundation, Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation, the USFWS Great Ape Conservation Fund, the Smithsonian Institute’s CTFS, WCS Fellowship Fund, Arcus Foundation, Exxon Mobil Foundation, Drexel University and Los Angeles Zoo.

About the University of Oregon

The University of Oregon is among the 108 institutions chosen from 4,633 U.S. universities for top-tier designation of “Very High Research Activity” in the 2010 Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. The UO also is one of two Pacific Northwest members of the Association of American Universities.

SOURCE: Nelson Ting, assistant professor of anthropology, 541-346-5509,

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Note: The University of Oregon is equipped with an on-campus television studio with satellite uplink capacity, and a radio studio with an ISDN phone line for broadcast-quality radio interviews. Call the Media Contact above to begin the process.

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Habitat loss drives Sumatran tiger to verge of extinction


Washington: The destruction of vegetation is driving the Sumatran tiger to the brink of extinction, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) researchers say.

The Sumatran tiger, native to Indonesia, could be the fourth type of tiger to disappear from the wild thanks to deforestation and the loss of thick groundcover, also known as understory cover, said Sunarto, a WWF tigert expert, who led the study, the first to investigate the use of both forests and plantation areas for tiger habitat.

Although tigers prefer forest to plantation areas, the study found that the most important factor was that availability of thick ground-level vegetation which apparently serves as an environmental necessity for tiger habitat, regardless of location, the journal Public Library of Science ONE reported.

“As ambush hunters, tigers would find it hard to capture their prey without adequate understory cover,” said Sunarto, who earned his doctorate at Virginia Tech and now is a tiger expert for the World Wildlife Fund-Indonesia (WWF-Indonesia).

“The lack of cover also leaves tigers vulnerable to persecution by humans, who generally perceive them as dangerous,” added Sunarto. Within forest areas, tigers also strongly prefer sites that have low levels of human disturbance, according to a univeristy statement.

Estimates place the current wild tiger populations at as few as 3,200 tigers, including only about 400 Sumatran tigers, which are listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.

“These study results indicate that to thrive, tigers depend on the existence of large contiguous forest blocks,” said study co-author Marcella Kelly, associate professor in Virginia Tech’s department of fish and wildlife conservation and Sunarto’s graduate advisor.

The Indonesian government has set aside many areas and national parks for the conservation of endangered species, but about 70 percent of tiger habitat in Sumatra, an island in western Indonesia, remains outside these protected areas.

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