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AWC landmark sanctuaries fight for species survival

The Australian Wildlife Conservancy has created private land that is safe for wildlife to thrive in line with the Australian Government’s Threatened Species Strategy.

Reporter Nerissa Ferrie talks with AWC’s resident field ecologist Bryony Palmer about the work and investment that the Australian Wildlife Conservancy has put into the sanctuaries to protect species.

Australian government does carbon dating checks on rhino horns at auction


By Mic Smith

Following the recent auctions of rhino horn items in Melbourne and Sydney, the Australian Department of Environment has said it works closely with auction houses on upcoming sales of rhino horn.

“In regards to recent sales at Sotheby’s and Leonard Joel, the Department liaised with the auction houses and was satisfied of the provenance of the rhinoceros horn specimens,” a department spokesperson said.

One of the items auctioned at Leonard Joels auction house, a 3kg raw horn over 50cm in length, came with a statutory declaration from the owner saying it was purchased in the mid 1960s and had a carbon dating certificate to prove its provenance. It sold for $40,000.

Another horn auctioned at Leonard Joels, about one kilogram and 30cm long also had a carbon dating certificate and statutory declaration saying it was imported to Australia in the 1950s to prove its provenance. It sold for $25000.

According the Australian Attorney General’s office, “A statutory declaration is a written statement that allows a person to declare something to be true. When you make a statutory declaration, you are declaring that the statements in it are true.”

The federal Department of Environment spokesperson said proof of the auctioned rhino horn origins is required.

“It is the responsibility of the person in possession of the specimen to provide evidence of the lawful origin,” the spokesperson said.


“In order to lawfully import or export rhinoceros horns strict criteria must be met, which involves proving the specimens were lawfully taken prior to the [1975] commencement of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).”


Two other pieces which were auctioned the same week included a large Chinese libation cup auctioned Oct. 27 at Sothebys Australia in Sydney and a tiny rhino horn cup auctioned at Leonard Joels in Melbourne Oct. 25.

The large libation cup, carved and pierced to its entire length, was auctioned at Sothebys. The auction house website said it came from Adelaide’s prominent Zorich retail family, having been acquired at Sotheby’s Belgravia rooms in London almost 50 years ago.

The little rhino cup auctioned at Leonard Joels was 10.5cm high with a handle formed as intertwined mythical beasts and bands of carving to rim and base. The catalogue said it had been inherited by Melbourne descendants of a shipping magnate and China Navigation Co. agent in 19th century China. It was estimated at $2000 -$3000 but sold for a staggering $80,000.

Both Sothebys and Leonard Joels were contacted but didn’t reply.

A report in South African news website, SA People News, said many people had taken to Sothebys Australia Facebook page to “voice concerns about this being the wrong message to send”, however Sotheby’s may have moderated the comments because none appear visible on the page.

The Environment Department spokesperson said there is limited trade in rhino horn in Australia.

“Australia recognises that it is not immune to illegal wildlife trade, and has implemented stricter domestic measures to combat illegal ltrade in rhinoceros horn.”

“Current trends in Australia are that rhino horn is fetching much less than previously,” the spokesperson said.

The details of the rhino horn items auctioned at Leonard Joels included this statement: “Note relating to CITES legislation: purchasers wishing to export this item will be required to obtain the appropriate documentation from the Australian Department of Environment and further information may be required before export approval is granted.”

The radio carbon dating service used by Leonard Joels is at Australia National University in Canberra.

The head of the service Stewart Fallon said horns off rhinos killed after 1953 are quite accurate to carbon date. It’s called Bomb Carbon Dating because of the large number of nuclear bombs dropped between 1950 and 1965.

He said horns taken after 1953 show easily recognisable isotopes that are quite unique compared to horns taken pre-1953.

He said to test the date of the rhino’s death the lab tested the base of the horn and to test the date of the rhino’s birth the lab tested the tip of the horn. He said the results were accurate.

“You can measure the value in the youngest part of the horn. We know which way the horns grow so you can get within a year or two or less,” Mr Fallon said.

A rhino horn carving is more difficult to measure because it’s difficult to identify the youngest part, he said.

“It’s more of a grey area.”

It could intersect the curve at 1957 or 2005 but if that was the result the date the horn was taken would more likely to be 2005, he said.

Carbon dating tests of rhino horns taken in the 200 years prior to 1953 were less accurate than bomb dating, he said.

The lab at ANU has tested about four horns for auction houses this year and about the same number for last year.

We are only helping people who are trying to sell things the right way, he said.

Previous auctions of rhino horns at Lawson’s auction house in Australia in 2014 had drawn demands from Humane Society International to withdraw the items from auction.

Australian Financial Review journalist Peter Fish who regularly covers art auctions said rhino horn items at Australian auctions have much more appeal generally to Asian buyers (mostly Chinese) than for Western buyers.

“Whether such objects go to mainland Chinese, Singaporeans (for example) or Australian Chinese is hard to determine, especially with the anonymity offered by internet and phone bidding,” Mr Fish said.

“Auctioneers generally are prepared to divulge only snippets of information about buyers and vendors.”

UNESCO study by @julieposetti uses research to shed light on source protection in the surveillance era

Source: UNESCO study by @julieposetti uses research to shed light on source protection in the surveillance era

Washington’s new law gets tough on wildlife trafficking

Washington, D.C. – Today, the House passed the Global Anti-Poaching Act (H.R. 2494), legislation authored by U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which helps the United States and partner countries combat today’s unprecedented level of poaching and wildlife trafficking, a press release stated


On the legislation’s passage, Chairman Royce said“The very disturbing reality is that some of the world’s most majestic animals have become ‘blood currency’ for rebel groups and terrorist organizations in Africa.  Poaching is bigger than natural security. It is a national security issue. Wildlife trafficking is now among the most lucrative criminal activities worldwide – worth an estimated $10 billion annually.

“Time isn’t on our side. Each day of inaction means more animals poached and more cash for terrorists.  This vital legislation holds foreign governments accountable by ‘naming and shaming’ the worst violators and adds greater consequences for traffickers in this illicit trade. And it presses the Administration to continue to provide important security assistance to African park rangers.”

Additionally, the legislation:

  • requires the Secretary of State to identify the foreign countries determined to be a major source, transit point, or consumer of wildlife trafficking products and make a special designation for those countries that have “failed demonstrably” in adhering to international agreements on endangered or threatened species (the Secretary of State is authorized to withhold certain assistance from countries that have received this special designation);
  • puts wildlife trafficking in the same category as weapons trafficking and drug trafficking, making it a liable offense for money laundering and racketeering, and requires fines, forfeitures, and restitution received to be transferred to federal conservation and anti-poaching efforts;
  • presses the Administration to continue to provide security assistance to African countries for counter-wildlife-trafficking efforts;
  • expands wildlife enforcement networks to help partner countries strengthen coordination and share information and intelligence on illegal wildlife trafficking on a regional basis;
  • supports increased professionalization of partner countries’ wildlife law enforcement rangers on the front lines of the fight against poachers, who are often armed with night-vision goggles, heavy weaponry, and even helicopters.
  • A section-by-section summary of the Global Anti-Poaching Act (H.R. 2494) is available HERE.

US and China agree in historic ivory deal

 President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping have agreed to end commercial ivory sales in the United States and China.

The September announcement marks the first public commitment by President Xi to end ivory sales in China, the world’s largest market, and follows a pledge made by Chinese officials in May to phase out the domestic trade.

It also puts heavy pressure on Hong Kong, a global hub for commercial ivory, to ban its legal trade — one that has provided cover for smuggling and illicit sales of ivory from African elephants poached in recent years.

A recent survey found that over 90% of ivory sold in Hong Kong was being smuggled into mainland China.

A White House fact sheet released Friday confirms the agreement:

Wildlife Trafficking: The United States and China, recognizing the importance and urgency of combating wildlife trafficking, commit to take positive measures to address this global challenge. The United States and China commit to enact nearly complete bans on ivory import and export, including significant and timely restrictions on the import of ivory as hunting trophies, and to take significant and timely steps to halt the domestic commercial trade of ivory. The two sides decided to further cooperate in joint training, technical exchanges, information sharing, and public education on combating wildlife trafficking, and enhance international law enforcement cooperation in this field. The United States and China decided to cooperate with other nations in a comprehensive effort to combat wildlife trafficking.

Queen of ivory arrested in Tanzania

Picture: Mrs. Yang Feng Glan (Credit: Malaika Pictures)

Picture: Mrs. Yang Feng Glan (Credit: Malaika Pictures)

“The Queen of Ivory”, a Chinese national, arrested by a specialized Task Force in Tanzania is the most important ivory trafficker ever arrested in the country.

A specialized wildlife trafficking unit under Tanzania’s National and Transnational Serious Crimes Investigation Unit (NTSCIU) arrested a number of high-level Chinese ivory traffickers led by a woman who is now thought to be the most notorious ivory trafficker brought to task so far in the war against elephant poaching.

She is believed to be behind the trafficking of a huge quantity of ivory over the last several years.

The woman, now dubbed the “Queen of Ivory”, is a Chinese national named Yang Feng Glan, 66, and has been followed by the Task Force for over a year.

She recently disappeared from Tanzania, moving to Uganda, but returned one week ago, when the Task Force swiftly moved and arrested her.

After confessing to many of her crimes she has been taken to the high court of Dar es Salaam facing a maximum sentence of 20-30 years imprisonment.

Yang Feng Glan is originally from Beijing and owns several houses, a farm, a restaurant, and three cars.

According to the Task Force, she first came to Tanzania in the 1980’s working as an interpreter and she has been trafficking ivory since at least 2006, working with the most high-ranking poachers in the country and in the region.

She is connected to various companies abroad, all Chinese-owned, and circulates in the upper echelons of Chinese citizens living and working in Tanzania.

Tanzania has been the ground zero of elephant poaching in East Africa for the past several years, having lost 85,000 elephants between 2009 and 2014, according to a recent elephant census in the country.

The involvement of high profile, corrupt individuals and government officials at the two ports of Dar-es-Salaam and Zanzibar, and elsewhere in civil society is suspected.

“It’s the news that we all have been waiting for, for years”, commented Mr. Andrea Crosta, co-founder of the Elephant Action League and WildLeaks.

“Finally, a high profile Chinese trafficker is in jail. Hopefully she can lead us to other major traffickers and corrupt government officials. We must put an end to the time of the untouchables if we want to save the elephant”.

“Everyone she has been dealing with will now become a target for law enforcement,” Crosta said.

Under da Sea (Biology)

Featured Image -- 2364

Originally posted on Scientific Babble:

Are there any other sharks in Britain, apart from the Basking Shark?

I didn’t think so. My South African parents used to go swimming with sharks a lot in Africa. They saw many different species from Great Whites to the Ragged-tooth otherwise known as the grey nurse or sand shark. I loved hearing about their adventures and stories and would one day love to become a qualified deep sea diver and swim with a shark, without a cage, just like my parents. One of the shark species they never managed to lay there eyes on was the rapid Mako shark. I have never seen a shark in the wild but have seen them in sea centres like ‘Deep Sea World’, in Edinburgh.
Until now I never knew that there were any other wild sharks in Britain besides the Basking Shark. I couldn’t have been more wrong! There are least 21 species…

View original 354 more words

Dreamworld applies to Australian Environment Department to import three tigers from Japanese zoo

Dreamworld has applied to the Federal Environment Department to import three live tigers from a Japanese Zoo.

According to a September 10 notice distributed by Wildlife Trade Assessments, Dreamworld needs more tigers to sustain the Gold Coast theme park’s generic tiger management programme.

“There are no suitable tigers within Australian zoos that will meet Dreamworld’s requirements,” the notice, which invites comments for one week, says.

“Dreamworld tigers are used in an interactive public education programme to deliver messages about tiger conservation” and 15 percent of the proceeds are devoted to tiger conservation, the notice says.

The theme park’s tiger programme for Dreamworld visitors includes $695 tiger walks, $345 photo opportunities, cub walks, tiger displays with handlers, tiger feeding sessions and VIP experiences, according to the website.

The money raised goes to the Dreamworld Wildlife Foundation which “make significant donations to fund anti-poaching patrols and conservation initiatives in Russia and Indonesia to help save tigers in the wild”, according to a page on the theme park’s website.

Tigers are listed on Appendix I of Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and their trade is strictly regulated.

This application does not meet the requirements of s303CG of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the Act), because it does not meet any of the eligible non-commercial purposes,” the notice says.

However Dreamworld is claiming exceptional circumstances to import the tigers from Japan’s Hirakawa Zoo.

The exceptional circumstances bullet pointed in the notice are:

  • the proposed import of the tigers would not be contrary to the objectives of Part 13A of the Act
  • the import provides the opportunity to promote international cooperation in tiger conservation
  • the tigers will help to promote awareness of global wildlife conservation within the Australian community
  • the import will allow Dreamworld to sustain the tiger conservation programme
  • the import will ensure that Dreamworld’s significant contribution to global tiger conservation can be maintained.

To make a comment:

Please address any comments to:


Wildlife Trade Assessments

Department of the Environment

GPO Box 787



Surfing with the baitfish


By Mic Smith

At a recent surf at Broken Head there was lots to eat in the water judging by all the fishing action going on.

My feet were dangling off the side of my board in black clouds of bait fish. Dolphin pods were cruising back and fourth sometimes breaking the surface an arm’s length away. Gannets were diving for fish left and right.

When the gannets popped up fish-in-mouth they’d flee skyward from their rapacious buddies hot on their tails. Or if they bounced buoyantly but fishless back on the surface they’d have that “ready for another go” look in their eye.

Obviously they’d caught the bait fishing bug and like a gambler at the racetrack they weren’t quitting till there was nothing left.

Gannets dive for bait fish

Gannets dive for bait fish

I wasn’t leaving either, not while the surfing banks were good and the glassy conditions held.

A big flock of pelicans sitting like a church picnic were fishing neck-plunging style 50 metres further out.

They were taking advantage of the dolphins’ teamwork.

The dolphins, who are master strategists, and bigger fish (hopefully no Great Whites) were herding the bait fish up to the surface. The pelicans just thought it was great. They can’t dive like gannets. They can only plunge as far as their necks allow, so they were all ‘Oh yeh” with the way the dolphins were bringing the tasty sardines up to them.

It went on for hours, so when I got out I got the camera and tried to catch some bait fish fever with the lens.

The gannets obliged my lens, it was like the Battle of Britain. But while I was shooting away, a couple of pelicans, no doubt a breeding pair, landed nearby and waddled up to check me out.

A breeding pair of pelicans land

A breeding pair of pelicans land

Looking for a bit of a fishy handout from a fisherman no doubt.

Getting a close up gander at these giant birds was beautiful. Big patient eyes and thick cassowary-berry-blue legs. The cricket umpire waddlers of the sea.

Checking me out

Checking me out

I realised I didn’t know anything about these black and white B52s of the bird family. I’d never seen a baby pelican, so when I got home I checked out the internet for where they breed.

The bird community expert I found online, Julian Reid from Australian National University, was in the field out west researching a rare parrot when I emailed but he called me when he came back to his Canberra home.

“I saw a few pelicans while I was out there,” said the bird researcher who specialises on bird communities in outback regions.

Pelicans breed during big wets (La Nina) on islands in the Channel Country of South West Queensland that are formed in the floods, he said.

The pelicans choose the islands because they are safe from dingos.

The biggest breeding colonies Dr Reid had seen were 75,000 breeding pairs.

Nobody knows how the pelicans on the coast know when it’s going to flood out there. It’s one of those incredible phenomenon how they know and how they coordinate hundreds of thousands of pelicans to fly west together.

No one knows how pelicans know the big wets are happening out west before the make the trip

No one knows how pelicans know the big wets are happening out west before the make the trip

Pelicans were rare on the coast south of Sydney until the 1974-76 La Nina when huge breeding colonies produced millions of offspring. There’s been pelicans south of Sydney ever since, Dr Reid said.

He said they breed every year and flooding events out west are rare, so pelicans also breed on near-shore islands along the coast.

Pelicans are opportunistic and smart. Like the ibis on the Gold Coast they don’t mind a bit of a dump scavenging to supplement their fish diet.

The wise old pelicans take advantage of the opportunities that people and dolphins create for them.

Saigon Horn: A TCM doctor’s perspective of sung te giac (

By Mic Smith originally posted on Groundreport: 08/23/2013

The clinic where Dr Nhon works uses traditional treatments such as herbal medicine, acupuncture, moxibustion and massage mixed with a lesser amount of modern treatments. Patients are nearly always prescribed herbs. Prescriptions of medicines made from animals are very rare. Traditional medicine in Vietnam is heavily influenced by China, Dr Nhon says.
Early this year on a visit to Vietnam I interviewed a university trained Traditional Medicine Doctor at a respected clinic in HCMC. Though he shares the same medical views on rhino horn as the generations of doctors in Vietnam and China that have practiced before him, he says rhino poaching is stupid and should stop.

A Traditional Chinese Doctor in Ho Chi Minh City says while he believes in the medical efficacy of wild animal parts, his clinic very seldom prescribes them.

Dr Nhon, who is a senior doctor at Buu Di Duong Clinic in District 8 with a six year traditional medicine degree at HCMC’s Traditional Medicine University, says the use of wild animal parts for TCM wasn’t taught at his university.

However the use of “snakes, insects, tiger, rhino horn and mountain goat” is an accepted TCM practice, he says, because the knowledge comes from “experience accumulated and handed down over generations.”

His comment suggests that the Chinese system of ‘priorism’, or an inherent belief in the sacredness of the past, is also operating in Vietnam.

At his university, students were taught to revere the teachings of the fathers of Vietnamese Traditional Medicine, Lan Ong and Tue Tinh who had a great impact on the philosophy of Traditional Medicine across the country.

There are important links, however, in Traditional Medicine education between China and Vietnam, Dr Nhon says.

Most of the the official university textbooks in his medicine degree were internal university editions of translated books from China, he says.

Dr Nhon, whose university at Nguyen Van Troi St in Phu Nhuan District is one of the most respected in Vietnam, says the staff at his clinic very seldom give patients advice to use medicinal animal parts even if the patients request it.

“It is not about what patients want as they don’t know what they need. It’s about what we decide to treat them with.”

The clinic treats patients according to the five yin and yang elements of water wood, fire, earth and metal that relate to the different organs in the body.

While the old ways have great value, things have changed as they now have “the perfect combination of the old and the modern”, Nhon says.

His clinic relies 70 percent on traditional medicine and 30 percent on modern medicine. For example Dr Nhon says he uses the practice of reading the subtle pulse and then sends patients for modern tests to confirm results of traditional diagnoses.

The combination of old and new treatments at the clinic suggests a 70 percent trust in traditional medical wisdom compared to a 30 percent level of trust in Western science, indicating a shift in the longstanding trend that Vietnamese have high trust and dependence in traditional medicine.

When asked about the medical efficacy of rhino horn. Dr Nhon says it only releases temperature to reduce fever.

He says he’s aware of the endangered status of rhinos, adding one solution could be the humane farming of rhinos for their horns.

“The people who kill them in the jungle are stupid. They should be farmed humanely, same as the bear bile, although some people don’t do that humanely.”

China, which once had its own natural populations of rhinos, allegedly has flagged plans of legal rhino farming for the horns.

Such solutions, however, could exacerbate the illegal slaughter of rhinos by providing means to launder blackmarket horns through legal channels and rhino conservation NGOs have objected to talk of legalising any section of the rhino horn trade.

NGOs alleged the legalising by CITES of trade in ivory to Japan in 1999 and China in 2008 was impossible to control and only increased the illegal slaughter of African elephants.

Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) alleged China’s ivory control system is a failure and alleged the 2008 legal ivory auctions resurrected the illegal ivory trade with tens of thousands of elephants being killed each year.

Peak bodies for TCM around the world share ethical concerns for the use of endangered species for TCM. Read the views of The Journal of Chinese Medicine.


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