Technology joins the fight against poaching

Technology is bringing new options to combat poaching in Africa.

This is a guest post by Chris Solomon. The post originally appeared on the website Global Risk Insights.

Elephant poaching is on the rise, and the international demand for illegal ivory continues to grow. In China, the ivory trade is extremely profitable; a single elephant tusk weighing 6 pounds can go for $12,700. The business in China is undergoing a crackdown and has largely moved online. In the United States, it is estimated that 30% of the ivory on the market is illegal.

Tsavo Trust, a wild life nonprofit in Tsavo East National Park in Kenya, recently announced that the internationally famed elephant Satao, a tusker, was killed by poachers. Every year around 25-35,000 elephants in Africa are killed for their tusks. Rhinos are also a huge target: more than 1,000 were killed in South Africa alone.

The battle against poaching is becoming increasingly militarized, and the demand for ivory is making the jobs of park rangers in Sub-Saharan Africa extremely dangerous. In the Democracy Republic of Congo (DRC), there are allegations that the dreaded LRA rebel movement led by Joseph Kony is taking part in poaching to restock on food and weapons. US Marines are even being deployed to train rangers in Chad’s Zakouma National Park, and Interpol is expanding its operations in East Africa to tackle the growing problem.

But new innovation and technology is at the forefront of the fight to protect endangered animals. The Wildlife Conservation Society is testing the use of surveillance drones, but costs of $200,000, short flight times, and light payloads leave more to be desired.

David S. Wilkie, WCS Director of Conservation Support, hopes that older model drones obtained from militaries will soon prove useful. He said, “If we can deploy ex-military–style craft with long flight times, durable airframes and [radar-] capable payloads, we will see tangible evidence of drones’ utility for protecting the safety and lives of park and community guards, and increase poacher arrests and crime prevention.”

A project in Ol Pejeta Conservancy worked in conjunction with the US firm Airware to utilize surveillance drones from in in Central Kenya. Ol Pejeta’s Public Relations Manager Elodie Sampere explained, “To avoid the need for Ol Pejeta to employ full-time pilots and engineers, Airware has developed a simple digital mapping interface, meaning that even a technophobe with no pilot training should be able to control the drone from the ground station.”

She also noted that it would greatly enhance the park’s ability to accurately track the number of wildlife in the region. However, drones may not always be the best option. The project was blocked by the Kenyan government due to security concerns.

rhinosOther ideas may be better suited for the task. Rainforest Connection (RFCx), a Kickstarter pilot project based in San Francisco, is using recycled smart phones to create an anti-deforestation/anti-poaching detection system.

Teaming up with the Zoological Society of London, RFCx plans to use retired Android phones to send alerts in real-time to authorities when an illegal action is taking place.

Topher White, the head of RFCx, explained, “It’s clear that real-time awareness and intervention is a major missing piece in protecting the world’s last remaining rainforests. By using old smartphones and existing telecommunications infrastructure, we have built a system that we think could scale quickly enough to make a real impact.”

Just like the illegal drug trade, ivory smugglers are shifting tactics and routes. A large load of ivory was recently confiscated in Togo, a country with less than 65 elephants. Criminals are also turning to Mozambique’s airport in Maputo since Johannesburg is more activity patrolled.

Game Wardens in Sabi Sand, South Africa are turning to non-lethal pink dyes to protect rhinos. People who consume the rhino horn powder for traditional/religious purposes will become ill with nausea. The dye is also able to be detected by scanners in airports. However, criminals may not care about the consumers of rhino horns and could bleach the horns to continue selling them.

scalloped-hammerhead-shark-credit-barry-peters-wikimedia-commons-250Public awareness and education for the end-markets in Asia will also be crucial. Social media campaigns and celebrity outreach could make an impact. WildAid’s video campaigns have shown signs of curbing the consumption of shark fins, with the demand for shark fins in Hong Kong dramatically decreasing by 70% in 2012. Movie stars Jackie Chan and Jiang Wen have taken part in an ad campaign, “When the buying stops, the killing can, too.” Public opinion in China and the rest of Asia is progressing with the younger generation.

The struggle against the cruel ivory trade will be an uphill battle, but the combination of technological innovation, social media, and better trained patrolling has the potential to help protect Africa’s endangered wildlife.


More than 120,000 tell Congress to oppose Doc Hastings plan to weaken the Endangered Species Act

More than 120,000 people have signed a CREDO Mobilize petition started by the Endangered Species Coalition that asks Congress to oppose representative Doc Hastings’s efforts to weaken protections for wildlife.


Sign the petition at CREDO Mobilize

Four bills being pushed by Congressman Doc Hastings, who is Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee,  could severely weaken the Endangered Species Act if passed into law.

These bills would allow politicians — not scientists — to determine what is the best available science on endangered species listing issues. They would also force wildlife agencies to post the nesting and denning sites of imperiled species online – which could do easily facilitate poaching. They would also severely limit the ability of ordinary citizens to participate in the public process by putting road blocks in between them and the courts. (Bills HR 4315, HR 4316, HR 4317, HR 4318)

The House could vote on these bills as soon as the first week of July.

You can sign the CREDO Mobilize petition here.

You can email your U.S. Representative directly here.

Representative DeFazio speaks out for wolves

Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR), a strong Congressional advocate for wolves, spoke out for wolves in an Op Ed published in the Eugene Weekly.

428px-Peter_DeFazio,_official_Congressional_photo_portrait_2008In the piece, A Fight for Survival, Mr. DeFazio pushes back against the proposed delisting of gray wolves noting that,  “USFWS did not use the “best available science” and that they actively ignored data that conflicted with their own conclusions.”

The highly controversial plan was released byt the USFWS over a year ago and has generated nearly 1.5 million comments in opposition. As noted in the piece by Mr. DeFazio, the independent peer review panel tasked with its review found that science doesn’t support the plan.

For the USFWS, the survival of gray wolves isn’t about science, or their stated goal of species recovery. To them, this is about politics. They’ve been driven by the influence of Tea Party-led red states and powerful wolf-phobic special interests that want to drive wolves into extinction. - Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR)

Please read the entire piece and take action by signing his petition at:

Father’s Day first for OR-7!

By now, you’ve likely heard that the wandering wolf known to his legions of followers as “Journey” (and to the biologists that track his travels as OR-7) is a father! Biologists in Oregon came across pups in the area where they believe he and his new mate have built a den.

Photo credit USFWS

Top: Journey and mate’s pups. Bottom: OR-7/Journey Photo credit USFWS

They were able to take a few pictures of 2 of the pups while Journey’s radio collar indicated he was out hunting for a meal for his new family. They estimate that the pups are 5 to 6 weeks old and that there may be a number of others. Wolves often have as many as 6 pups so these two may have brothers and sisters that were out of sight.

OR-7 was born into the Imnaha pack in Northeast Oregon in April 2009 and was fitted with a radio collar in Oregon in 2011. From there, he undertook a truly epic journey that captured the attention of wolf lovers around the world.  We’ve written about Journey’s travels previously here and you can learn much more at Oregon Wild’s website.

He rightfully earned the name Journey during his thousands of miles of travel from Oregon, into California, and back.

Very good news came from Journey’s destination state of California last week when the California Fish & Game Commission voted to protect gray wolves under the state’s Endangered Species Act. Journey’s travels there marked the first confirmed wolf sighting west of the Cascades since the middle of last century.

By protecting wolves under the state’s Endangered Species Act, California is insuring that wolves that are expanding into their previous habitat have the needed protections to recover.  You can send an email thanking the commission for taking this crucially important step here.

The move was even more important with existing federal protections threatened by Secretary Jewell’s plan to delist wolves nationally. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) issued a proposal last year that would remove existing protections from virtually all of the gray wolves in the lower 48 states. With wolves being found in states like Iowa, Kentucky, California, and elsewhere they haven’t lived in decades, it’s essential that we continue to provide safeguards to insure their survival. We will continue to fight Secretary Jewell’s proposal and support state efforts to protect gray wolves.

We celebrate Journey’s first Father’s Day as a dad and hope that future Journeys in California and across the U.S. are granted the protections they need to continue to thrive.

Is a Wolf Stamp the Solution in Montana?

Last week, ESC member group NRDC announced they were working with the state of Montana to enact policy that would create what’s being billed as a “wolf stamp” that could be purchased to help fund wolf-related programs.

Montana Wolf Stamp coming soon?

Montana Wolf Stamp coming soon?

First, it’s important to note that the stamp is not final and that there could be changes to the plan in the rulemaking process. But, here’s what we know today: the proposal calls for the stamps to be offered for sale at $19 and the funds raised will be used in 3 ways.

  1. One third would be made available to Montana livestock owners to help pay for nonlethal ways to protect their animals from predators like wolves, bears and mountain lions. 
  2. One third would be used to pay for studying wolves, educating the public about wolves, and improving or purchasing suitable wolf habitat.
  3. One third would be used to hire additional Montana Department of Fish Wildlife & Parks (MDFWP) game wardens in occupied wolf habitat. 

ESC member group the Wolf Conservation Center sees potential risks but is cautiously optimistic that the stamp will be a very positive first step.

The Federal Duck Stamp program, on which this is loosely modeled, has been wildly successful in its 80 year history in allowing hunters and non-hunters alike to contribute to conservation. It has raised more than $800 million since its inception, which has been used to purchase or lease over 6 million acres of wetlands habitat. In a time when states’ budgets are stretched, wildlife often is shortchanged and programs like this are a potential source of both funds and a path to influence for non-consumptive users.

The Endangered Species Coalition will continue to evaluate the proposal as it goes through the state’s rulemaking process and will facilitate public comment when possible. We do view actions such as this as a positive first step. Hunters and trappers rule game agencies in some states because their license fees pay the agency budgets. Attempts to match this influence through voluntary contributions are challenging, but should they succeed could provide a long-sought seat at the table.

Last Stand of the Orangutan: The Power is in Your Palm

On May 20th, activists around the world called on major snack food companies to cut conflict palm oil from their supply chains. From Australia to Kuala Limpur to San Francisco, thousands participated in the Rainforest Action Network’s #inyourpalm campaign. Activists unfurled a 60-foot banner at the Sweets and Snacks Expo in Chicago. In Washington, DC, we distributed information and spoke with the public about the impact of palm oil.

Palm oil touches each of our lives, as it is found in a huge array of packaged foods and personal hygiene products that are found in every supermarket. In the United States, palm oil imports have increased by 485% in the past decade. The demand for this crop has pushed oil plantations further into some of the world’s most valuable rainforests in Indonesia and Malaysia, where 90% of palm oil is grown. The Indonesian government has announced plans to convert 44 million acres of land for palm oil cultivation by 2020, and 98% of Indonesia’s forests may be destroyed by 2022.

last stand logo_400pxThese areas are some of the most biologically diverse in the world. Although it is home to only 1% of earth’s land area, it is home to 10% of all known plant species, 12% of known mammal species, and17% of known bird species. Although most of Indonesia was once forested, less than half of that forest remains today. Estimates suggest that 2.4 million acres of Indonesian rainforest is lost each year. Several critically endangered animals are impacted by this rampant deforestation, including the Sumatran tiger and Sumatran rhino, both of which have only hundreds left in the wild. The Sumatran orangutan is at a high risk for extinction in our lifetime, largely due to deforestation for palm oil. The population of orangutans fell by 14% between 2004 and 2008. Palm oil plantations are also involved in many land disputes with rural communities and have been linked to child and forced labor. The destruction of these ecosystems also contributes largely to greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite all of the negative impacts, there is a simple solution to this problem: responsible palm oil. Although some products carry different sustainable palm oil certification labels, these companies are still able to destroy rainforests. Companies involved in the production or use of palm oil need to take extra steps to ensure that their products do not contribute to the loss of these irreplaceable ecosystems and human rights violations. Food manufacturing companies need to display a transparent supply chain that allows consumers to understand the sourcing of their products.

Large snack food companies, such as PepsiCo, must immediately take action to ensure the responsible sourcing of their products. Many of these companies have taken recent steps to announce new commitments to strengthening their palm oil practices, which is an important move in the right direction. PepsiCo, the largest snack food company in the world, has yet to release a truly responsible palm oil policy. Despite a recent commitment, the company’s actions have fallen short.

Help ensure that healthy rainforest ecosystems remain on our planet by calling on PepsiCo and all companies to cut conflict palm oil from their supply chains completely. Always check the labels of the products that you purchase and avoid those that contain palm oil ingredients. Visit to learn more. It’s simple; the power is in your palm!

To Save Endangered Species, Everyone Has a Role to Play

Species of all shapes and sizes, including many large, charismatic mammals, such as tigers and elephants, are in a heap of trouble all over the globe—in most cases thanks to us. Unlike other species, people are capable of transforming the entire planet: We are living in the Anthropocene, an age in which Homo sapiens determines the fate of most of the other species on the planet. One-fourth of Earth’s species could be driven to extinction by 2050, just as a result of climate change. That’s not even counting the ones threatened by habitat eradication, toxins, and other plagues we have wrought on those with whom we share our home.

One-fourth of Earth’s species could be driven to extinction by 2050, just as a result of climate change.

Solving these problems will take a global village. Every sector has some role to play, including the private sector, which has until recently been cast primarily as the problem, not part of the solution. We’re used to seeing news about corporate actions that damage habitats and harm the environment. About a year ago, for example, came news that giant panda reserves in China had been compromised, forcing the few remaining pandas into smaller and more fragmented habitats because of phosphate mining in a region already vulnerable to natural disasters such as mudslides, landslides, and floods, which mining can exacerbate. Yet even though tunneling in the area had already led to a collapse of one section of Banpengzi Mountain, local authorities were willing to change the boundaries of the pandas’ protected habitat so that more mines could open.

wolfwiWhen Idaho sets aside $400,000 to exterminate wolves to protect cattle ranchers, it’s the same litany: We need jobs and commerce; there are other wolves. Last June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to remove gray wolves from the endangered species list, a move that usually signals that a species has recovered sufficiently to survive without federal protection. Seven months later, an independent peer review conducted by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis concluded that the decision to remove the wolf from the list was “not well supported by the available science.” FWS reopened its comment period on the matter but has not yet made a final decision. Idaho still proposes to kill wolves.

Throughout the history of our species, we have played a role—often the starring role—in driving species to extinction. Sailors killed dodos and harvested their eggs, and sailing ships introduced predators to the dodos’ habitat. People hunted passenger pigeons and deforested their habitats until the remaining population collapsed. Hunting and a changing climate combined to eliminate the woolly mammoth before people even understood how big the world really was.

One could argue that the extinctions of dodos and passenger pigeons and, of course, mammoths were wrought long before we humans understood the importance of contiguous habitat or concepts like genetic bottlenecks. But now we do, and our excuses are gone. If we choose to value a few jobs in southwestern China or rural Idaho over the survival of pandas or wolves, it’s our fault; it’s not innocent ignorance. It’s time to step up.

polar_bears_steve_hillebrand_usfwsSome companies are doing just that. I’m old enough to remember when Exxon’s slogan was “Put a tiger in your tank,” complete with a tiger mascot. These days, the ExxonMobil Foundation has joined with the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund and Save the Tiger Fund to advance tiger conservation programs across Asia. Patagonia supports the removal of dams that compromise habitats in rivers and riparian areas, an activity that has put the Pacific salmon on the endangered species list.

Lots of corporations “adopt” animal mascots because animals appeal to people. It’s time for those corporations—as well as the ones that merely depend on a healthy planet—to launch or redouble efforts to protect habitats. Unilever’s Klondike Bar sports a picture of the über-cute polar bear. Budweiser got a lot of mileage out of a bunch of frogs; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists 34 species of endangered frogs. Frito-Lay’s Cheetos are represented by a cheetah. If every corporation that uses an endangered or threatened species put up some cash to help protect them, we would be far better off. It is possible to pull species back from the brink; we’ve had successes with black-footed ferrets, alligators, and others.

By the way, it’s not just mammals that are in trouble. But it’s hard to steer attention toward the plight of Furbish’s lousewort (a plant), and there probably aren’t any corporations with a sense of fun so expansive that they’d adopt the bearded black millipede. What about Honey Nut Cheerios? Is it time for General Mills to contribute to efforts to understand the causes of colony collapse disorder?

Corporations are powerful entities, and it’s encouraging to see some, at least, using their might to help protect the planet and its inhabitants. It’s high time for others to join in.

Julie Fox Gorte is a Board Member at the Endangered Species Coalition and Senior Vice President for Sustainable Investing at Pax World Funds.

This post was originally published at

Celebrate Endangered Species Day

Friday, May 16th is Endangered Species Day 2014.  How are you celebrating?

This is the 9th annual Endangered Species Day and is the biggest yet. Events have already begun, with nearly 200 scheduled around the country. In Washington, we will be talking about plants and pollinators at the U.S. Botanic Garden on Friday along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other conservation groups.

This week of Endangered Species Day, we have partnered with the Spring of Sustainability to assemble a week-long series of panels titled Vanishing Species Week. Every day until Friday, there is a unique 45-minute online or phone-accessible panel, culminating in an event on Friday with Ed Begley, Jr.

Also on Friday, we are having a Tweetchat with a bear scientist from our member group Bear Trust International. They will be taking questions about threats facing sloth bears, a vulnerable species that faces unique threats from poaching for use as dancing bears.

Into the weekend, we have events scheduled all over the country! There are bike rides (here is one called Pedal for Polar Bears), hikes, tree-planting and habitat restoration, and gatherings of all sorts at parks, zoos, schools, and nature centers. Find an event and head out to celebrate saving species!

View a collection of some of our favorite social media mentions here:

Wisconsin Wolf Population Plummets

A a report in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel cited preliminary estimates released by the state’s Department of Natural Resources showing a nineteen percent decline in the state’s wolf population in the last year.

Increased hunting and trapping resulted in the killing of 257 wolves in Wisconsin in 2013, up from 117 in 2012. This left the state with somewhere between 650 and 700 wolves statewide. That number is down from nearly 850 in 2012.

In its federally-approved management plan, the state established a minimum of 350 wolves, yet the Walker administration appears to be targeting that as a goal. The piece quotes the president of the Wisconsin Bowhunters Association saying, “Our group wants the wolf numbers to be at or below 350 as soon as possible.”

The state estimates there are 794,000 deer  in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Bowhunters Association surely can’t view a mere 600 wolves as a threat to their ability to find a deer. (The total deer population is reportedly 1.4m, 794,000 is the state’s goal. -ed)

Source Wisconsin DNR Credit Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Source Wisconsin DNR Credit Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

In addition to pursuing an unsustainable management strategy, Wisconsin has claimed the unsavory position of being the sole state that allows the use dogs to hunt wolves.

These decisions aren’t being made without outside input. Until recently, Wisconsin’s “Wolf Advisory Committee” included representatives from the conservation and animal welfare community in addition to other stakeholders. That changed last year when the committee was rechartered, leaving mostly pro-hunting and trapping groups to advise the state on how best to manage wolves. As evidenced by the marked decline, the result is an unsustainable set of policies.

Like Idaho and other Northern Rockies states, Wisconsin is demonstrating to the nation what awaits wolves when Endangered Species Act protections are lifted. Secretary Jewell’s planned nationwide delisting would expose nearly all of the nation’s wolves to reckless pro-hunting policies like these. You can email Secretary Jewell and urge that she maintain protections for wolves here.

White House Invites Pollinators to Its Garden

The White House has for six years planted a garden on the South Lawn, first planted in 2009 to promote a nationwide conversation about healthy eating. This year marks the inauguration of an addition to the garden that we hope will spur a conversation about bees, butterflies, and other vital yet imperiled species: a pollinator garden.

Nearly two-thirds of the foods we often consume are pollinated by bees, so we rely on bees for much of our food. — The White House Blog

The White House has kept bees for several years but this is the first year that they have included plants designed to attract native pollinators. The garden includes 2 species of milkweed, a plant necessary to the survival of monarch butterflies. Monarchs are in rapid decline, plunging to their lowest winter population level since record-keeping began in the 1990s.

Monarchs are facing multiple threats including climate change and substantial habitat loss both in this country and in Mexico. But, the largest known reason for the decline is the loss of milkweed. The decline in the overwintering population of monarchs has been tied to the use of the herbicide Round Up and the associated increased planting of genetically modified corn and soybeans. The larvae of monarch butterflies eat only milkweed, so it is vital to their survival.

Monarchs migrate annually from the U.S. and Canada into Southern California and Mexico and rely on overwintering and stopover sites along the way. The current threat is serious enough that President Obama and the leaders of Mexico and Canada met in February and pledged to seek solutions to preserve their migration.

In response to these threats, the IUCN has designated the monarch migration an endangered biological phenomenon. The Mexican government has helped to protect monarchs by creating the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in the late 1980s. It now includes 217 square miles of forests in the Sierra Madres where monarchs overwinter.

Endangered Species Coalition member group NRDC has worked with the group Monarch Watch to increase the planting of milkweed by helping to provide what they call “monarch waystations” along the monarch’s migration route.

You can help by asking the EPA to ban pesticides that are killing pollinators. You can also take a cue from the White House and plant milkweed!

You can watch First Lady Michelle Obama speak about the importance of the new pollinator garden here: