Matterhorn's two-year old calf was found alive with a bullet in his side. Credit: Lewa Wildlife Conservancy
When a gram of rhino horn fetches more than its weight in gold or cocaine, how do you protect the animals from poaching? This is the question staff at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy—a 62,000-acre wildlife sanctuary in northern Kenya—is currently grappling with. The facility is widely regarded as one of the safest havens for rhinos and elephants in Africa, yet just two weeks ago Lewa lost its 5th rhino in its 30 years of operation, a pregnant female named Matterhorn.
“I still feel like we’ve got one of the best—if not the best—security set ups in Kenya,” said Mike Watson, a former British Army officer and Lewa’s current CEO. “But we’re still losing rhinos,” he added.
A rhino poached for its horn in Zimbabwe. Credit: Anti-poaching Unit, Zimbabwe
Reeking of infection, the elephant stumbled into the Tanzanian camp where Thomas Appleby works as a safari manager. Its back legs festered with gangrene radiating from the open, pungent wounds that the animal had evidently endured for at least two long weeks. Ivory poachers had shot the elephant in both legs, but it had probably bolted before they could subdue the massive beast enough to hack off its tusks. The infection had slowly spread throughout the animal’s limbs, and Appleby had to put it down.
“The poor thing, it completely tore my heart out,” Appleby said. “We are losing thousands—and I mean thousands—of iconic animals because of some kind of rapacious hunger from far off countries.”
A greater coucal trapped in rural Vietnam could be dinner for the hunter’s family or could be sold into the country’s bustling wild bird trade. Credit: RNuwer
The hunter is in luck. Caught in his snare trap—a homemade contraption fashioned from bamboo twigs and some rope—is a greater coucal, its neck tightly lassoed. About the size of a Chihuahua, coucals often make their home around forest fringes surrounding farmland in southern Vietnam, and their haunting, deep call is sometimes associated with omens in Asian culture. The bird’s blood-red eyes flash as it struggles to free itself; its fate, however, is sealed. The hunter claims the illegal prize.
A South African rhino kept at Ho Chi Minh City zoo in Vietnam. Credit: S. Watts, Humane Society International
Conservationists were left feeling unsettled about the future of rhinos after the CITES’ (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) meeting in Geneva last week. During a special panel on rhinoceros, the CITES Secretariat failed to produce any tangible recommendations, despite the rhino situation being described as “almost out of control” by one delegation. China, assumed to be the main culprit for illegal rhino horn trafficking used in traditional medicine, evaded questions and provided only vague answers—as usual. Conservationists struggled to piece together answers while strategizing to save the world’s quickly declining rhino populations. Continue reading
The entrance to Harbin Siberian Tiger Park in Harbin, China.
A woman shrieks in horrific glee as the 400-pound tiger lunges at the helplessly dangling chicken. Onlookers goad on the poultry-wielding man as he torturously teases the huge beasts with their ruffled, terrified prey. The tigers—at least 20 of them—throw themselves at the flimsy fence, attempting to snatch the live snack. At last, to the delight of the crowd, the limp bird is tossed into the writhing tiger pit. It is immediately enveloped in a pile of hungry orange, and the crowd of tourists disperses, their appetites satiated. No, this isn’t a deranged scene from Gladiator: it’s a tiger farm in modern China.