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Archive for the ‘Species In Peril’ Category

Everyone who makes films has to be an athlete to a certain degree because cinema does not come from abstract academic thinking; it comes from your knees and thighs” – film-maker and documentarian Werner Herzog.

On Tuesday, September 6, three powerful new films chronicling EIA’s recent undercover investigations into timber smuggling, the ivory trade and whaling will make their world debut in the USA on Nat Geo Wild.

Paul Redman and Clare Perry filming in a Japanese fish market (c) EIA

Broadcast under the collective banner of Crimes Against Nature, Blood Ivory depicts the brutal horror of elephant poaching in Kenya and black market trade in the marketplaces of Hong Kong and China; Making a Killing exposes Iceland’s hunting of endangered fin whales to package and sell for consumption in Japan; and Chainsaw Massacre uncovers the Vietnamese army’s involvement in the widespread smuggling of timber from neighbouring Laos.

Each film follows seasoned EIA investigators in the field as they methodically piece together the clues of wildlife and forest crime and follow evidence trails leading to corrupt officialdom, organised criminal syndicates and grasping businessmen. Along the way, viewers will share the setbacks and successes in films rich with imagery both startling and haunting.

What they won’t see, and possibly won’t suspect, is the long year of preparations and often physically and emotionally demanding work behind the scenes to get three one-hour films in the can.

The project effectively began in 2009, following EIA’s tiger team in China and Nepal for a pilot film eventually broadcast early last year on Nat Geo Wild as Eco Crime Investigators – Inside the Tiger Trade.

The broadcast, first in the USA and subsequently worldwide (and it’s still in heavy rotation), was such a success that further programmes were commissioned.

On location in Kenya with Mary Rice and Dave Currey (c) EIA

Initial meetings with the London-based production company hired by Nat Geo to make the films focused on the likely scope of the three investigations, the probable shooting times and budget requirements for each, and a loose schedule around which investigators would have to fit all their usual campaign work and commitments.

It was in October 2010, when filming was concluded in Iceland and underway in Vietnam, that I was brought onboard as Project Co-ordinator; you could draw up a job description for the role which might run to several sides of A4, or you could just as accurately say my primary function was to help ease the process along as required.

Both EIA and the production company shared the same goal – to make the best programmes possible; naturally, both came at it with different considerations to the fore. The nature of conducting investigations in the field is that you never know what’s going to turn up and where it might lead; the nature of film-making is that you have to satisfy those commissioning the venture that they’re going to end up with a solid narrative arc and a substantial conclusion, preferably before shooting begins.

From the word ‘go’, EIA was adamant that its investigators would not serve as props, nor would they be mouthpieces for scripted lines which might in any way reflect poorly or inaccurately on the organisation, its methodology or its invaluable work. At the same time, we accepted that the film-makers needed to distil often-complex issues in a way that was accurate and wouldn’t leave viewers scratching their collective brows and reaching for the remote control. Looking at the finished products (and I believe I must have done so a score of times for each!), I think it’s fair to say this was achieved remarkably well.

In the field was where problems could most easily arise as directors fretted that they wouldn’t get the key shots they needed within the timeframe allowed, or when they were debriefing an investigator following an emotionally exhausting undercover filming session and needed the same kind of projected energy on take seven as was given the first time around. But our investigators are nothing if not troopers – and on many occasions during this project they were fixers and guides too – and the passion they have for their various campaigns all but radiates from the screen.

Julian Newman interviewed during filming in Laos (c) EIA

When location filming concluded by late March, it remained to fine-tune the narratives, film interviews with the key campaigners and nail down the voice-over and visual inserts such as animated maps..

With security the key consideration for EIA, this was also the time for me to go through each film with a fine toothcomb and ensure that the identity of our undercover Chinese investigator was protected at all times; you’d be amazed at how often somebody’s features can be fleetingly reflected in background mirrors and table tops.

All that remains now is for you to watch the films, and help EIA by spreading the word for others to do the same.

* After the US premiere on Tuesday, the three programmes are due to be broadcast on Nat Geo Wild in other territories, including the UK, later this year – watch our website and blog for details as we learn them.

Paul Newman, Press OfficerPaul Newman

Press Officer

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A Burning Without the Warmth of Jubilation

Ivory Burning credit Dr. Paula Kahumbu

Almost 10 years ago, EIA investigated the case of more than six tonnes of illegal ivory –­ that’s at least 600 dead elephants ­– seized en route to Japan. It became known as the Singapore Seizure and our subsequent investigations showed it had been only one of 19 which had left the shores of Africa, all heading to Asia and all using the same modus operandi.

To this day, no-one apart from a minor fixer in Singapore has ever been prosecuted, let alone convicted.

Despite a wealth of evidence ­ and the excellent work of a handful of enforcement officers from Zambia, Malawi and the Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF),­ this case has, along with so many other similar cases across Africa and Asia, foundered. The criminal networks continue to operate with impunity and the illegal ivory trade is thriving and growing.

On Wednesday, July 20, some of the ivory from the 2002 seizure, in the custody of LATF and held in Kenya at the Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS) training college in Tsavo, was burned in a public statement decrying the growing trade and  increasing numbers of elephants being poached to fuel the burgeoning demand for ivory in Asia, predominantly China. Before lighting the 335 tusks, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki told the crowd: “We wish to firmly demonstrate to the world our determination to eliminate all forms of illegal trade in ivory. Poachers and illegal traders in ivory must know that their days are numbered.”

From my point of view,­ and as one of EIA’s team working on this from the start,­ it was all a rather poignant and disappointing end to the futile demise of so many elephants. 

Poached Elephant © EIA

Disposing of the ivory in this way certainly sends out a clear message about the commitment to tackle illegal trade and ensure that this consignment of ivory never enters any market place, legal or otherwise; it also serves to underline Kenya’s stance that it will not tolerate illegal trade and poaching (although it did not go unnoticed that none of Kenya’s own stockpile made it onto the pyre).

But it is also a sad reminder that no-one was ever punished,­ bearing in mind that it was only one of many shipments that successfully penetrated the permeable borders and under-resourced enforcement agencies tasked with preventing illegal contraband. It can’t have been easy either for the individuals who risked their lives to pursue the case and bring the syndicate to light, some of whom were present for the burning. Their work was eclipsed by the headlines that followed the immediate seizure, and the apathy and filibustering which then dominated the subsequent investigations.

Four years after the seizure, I spoke with the then Director General of the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) about the case and it’s status. His view was that it was ‘spilt milk’; it would seem that he was not alone. Now the Singapore Seizure has been consigned to history,­ a cold case,­ and remains the single biggest seizure of  ivory since the ban was implemented in 1989 (although, let’s face it, there have been a couple that have since come pretty close to equalling that dubious accolade). For many, this will be a line drawn, the end of an embarrassing chapter. For the individuals trying to move the case forward – the officers from ZAWA, the Anti-Corruption Bureau in Malawi, and the investigators from LATF – it must be a bitter-sweet outcome. Their efforts, which held so much promise and were a great example of agencies working together across borders to tackle illegal trade in ivory, ultimately came smack up against a brick wall. They did not fail; the system did. Corruption? Lack of resources? Political will? Inadequate penalties? I suspect we will never truly know.

On the positive side, the ZAWA officer who instigated the original investigation that led to the seizure and discovery of the  syndicate was recently appointed Director General of ZAWA. And Kenya has made an unequivocal statement about its stance, supported by the signatory countries to LATF.

At the end of the day, however, it all felt rather hollow. Lots of grand words and ambitious statements, and no celebration whatsoever of the gesture and signal being sent out to the criminal world. I wasn’t present at the last burning of ivory in Kenya, back in 1989, but I understand that the setting of flames was met with cheers, clapping and great jubilation; this burning was instead met with silence and a lot of jostling for position to get the iconic photograph or moving image.

The enforcement message somehow lost in the spin …

Mary Rice

Executive Director

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EIA Campaigners will be blogging on a daily basis from the IWC.

Day 4 – Thursday 14th July – The Last Day

 

UK commissioner speaks to the transparency proposal. Credit EIA.

UK commissioner speaks to the transparency proposal.

After the great result on the UK governance proposal, we sped through some other business last night – agreeing important items such as the Audited Accounts, the budget and other financial and administrative business.

The report of the Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling Sub Committee report was agreed with very little controversy, other than an exchange of views between India and the Russian Federation, after India called for aboriginal subsistence quotas to be reduced in the future. Next year will not be so easy as the catch limits for these hunts will be due for renewal. A resolution was adopted by consensus agreeing to a work plan to prepare for next year’s discussions on these catch limits.

Next up was the eternally controversial request by Japan for an IWC endorsed quota for four of its coastal communities. Japan has made this request every year since the moratorium on commercial whaling was implemented 25 years ago. Whilst Japan had a placeholder on the agenda for a proposal relating to this matter, it stated that it decided in the interest of cooperation not to make this request.

NGOs at work at the IWC. Credit EIA.

NGOs at work at the IWC. Credit EIA.

Discussions on the Future of the IWC have dominated the IWC for the past 3 years, including several intersessional meetings. Last year discussions were abandoned and a year’s pause was promised for reflection. This year a Resolution was tabled by the US and New Zealand calling for further cooperative work. After some disagreement on proposed revisions to the resolution, it was withdrawn with a ‘sort of’ agreement to work cooperatively together in future. It is very clear to EIA what the future of the IWC is – focusing maximum effort and resources on effectively addressing the myriad of threats to whales, dolphins and porpoises including climate change, pollution, ship strikes, entanglement and marine debris.

The day concluded with a most enjoyable reception hosted by a coalition of NGOs. Delegates had time to relax, enjoy some delicious food, and friendly chat. A good end to a hard day.

Thursday dawned as the final day of this annual meeting. It started with discussion of a resolution on safety at sea, proposed by Japan (in response to Sea Shepherd’s campaign in the Southern Ocean). Having withdrawn the coastal whaling quota, this was Japan’s key issue, and despite the fact that the IWC is not the correct forum to discuss safety at sea issues, delegates agreed the Resolution in the continuing spirit of compromise and consensus. Unfortunately, that spirit didn’t last.

Japan walks out. Credit EIA

Japan walks out.

For ten years Latin American countries have been calling for the IWC to agree a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic to contribute to greater protection of depleted whale populations, investment in scientific research, and creation of local cetacean watching opportunities with the associated economic benefits. One NGO from each side of the debate was permitted to make a presentation on the subject – some small compensation for the proposal on NGO participation having been removed from yesterday’s agreement.

Whilst the majority of IWC contracting governments supported the proposed sanctuary Iceland, Saint Kitts and Cameroun said they would block a consensus. With regret, Brazil decided to call for a vote, however Japan then stated that they and all ‘sustainable use’ countries would leave the room so there would be no quorum (a quorum is the minimum number of members who must be present for decisions to be made – IWC rules state that “Attendance by a majority of the members of the Commission shall constitute a quorum”). Japan stated that their understanding was that with 89 members, 45 should form a quorum. He further stated “..this is not a hostile action, we only do this to avoid voting”. Although many countries urged Japan and others not to take such drastic steps, after the Chair of the Commission asked for a vote to take place, Japan, Iceland, Norway and all other pro-whaling countries left the room.

Pro-whaling countries stage walk out to block whale sanctuary. Credit EIA.

Pro-whaling countries stage walk out to block whale sanctuary.

That was at 12:00 and at 8.30pm, some eight & a half hours later, Commissioners finally dragged themselves back to the plenary room, having agreed a short text which explained what had happened (in very diplomatic words which made Japan, Iceland and their allies look much more reasonable than they actually were). The text essentially agreed to form an intersessional group to look further into the rules of procedure, and to leave the sanctuary agenda item open with its discussion to be the first substantive item at the beginning of IWC64. In effect, Japan, Iceland and others successfully blocked the democratic right of the Latin Americans to have their sanctuary proposal voted on.

The chair then asked for adoption of the Conservation Committee report, Conservation Management Plans, Whale watching, Environment and Health Issues, Small cetaceans and other items under the Scientific Committee report with no discussion (and no NGO interventions). A frankly depressing end to a meeting that had started so well.

The only highlight was the announcement by the Secretary that a group of NGOs had contributed more than £10,000 to the small cetacean fund and this was followed up by generous contributions by Italy and France.

It was then agreed that the tricky issue electing a Chair and Vice-Chair would be done by post, and a short presentation was given by Panama, who will host IWC64. The finale of the meeting was a standing ovation to Fiona and Bernard from the IWC Secretariat. They are both taking retirement after more than two decades each of loyal, hard working and cheerful service to the IWC. They will be greatly missed. The IWC Secretariat work tirelessly all year to ensure our meetings run smoothly and always have a smile for everyone. Our best wishes to Fiona and Bernard and thanks to all the staff for everything they do for the organisation.

Vicky - probably everyone's favourite delegate... Credit EIA

Vicky - probably everyone's favourite delegate... Credit EIA

It’s hard not to feel discouraged that so much of the time, money and effort that we put into whale and dolphin conservation can be so easily sabotaged by the underhand tactics of just a few countries. But while the conservation work might not have had the discussion at IWC63 that it deserved, the work will still go on and we will be ready next year to insist that whale conservation is discussed as a priority issue at the start of the meeting. And we were also pleased that our report had encouraged a number of countries to forcefully criticise Iceland’s whaling and whale trade at the IWC meeting – something that is long overdue.

***

Day 3 – Wednesday 13th July

Despite having just two days of the meeting left yet three days of work to do, discussions on the UK’s governance proposal lasted the whole day.

Each proposed change was picked apart, particularly by Iceland, St Kitts and Nevis, and Antigua and Barbuda. One of the key points of contention was the proposal that payments of membership contributions must be by bank transfer only and not by cash. This simple, best practice payment rule would go a long way to counter the accusations of corruption which have dominated the IWC in recent years.

Frustration ruled and by lunchtime it was agreed that a small group of the most vocal speakers of the day, plus the UK, would meet to hammer out an agreement. Three hours later, the meeting resumed and a revised document was presented to the meeting.

Clare Perry at the IWC. Credit EIA

Clare Perry at the IWC. Credit EIA

Finally, agreement was reached and the revised proposal was adopted by consensus. Some compromises had been made and, notably, the attempt to improve IWC observer participation through the Rules was withdrawn early on in the meeting. But it was still a hugely important move forward for the IWC and something that even at the start of the day seemed unlikely to be resolved.

One of the key changes for us is that, at last, the Scientific Committee report will be made available on the IWC’s website within 14 days of the conclusion of the Scientific Committee meeting. Up until now, we have not been allowed to see the report until 10am on the first day of the Commission meeting. At this point, most of the Resolutions and other decision texts are already in play, we are run off our feet trying to talk to delegates and circulate our reports and it’s impossible to read and absorb a report which is usually around 100 pages long.

Despite the pain, the IWC has made a good decision with this package of changes to the Rules of Procedure. EIA pays tribute to the UK delegation and, in particular, to Jolyon Thompson who stewarded the proposal through with eloquence and determination.

At 6.50pm in the evening of day three we started to get on with the substantive issues to be discussed, quickly finishing the Finance and Admin report and starting to look at aboriginal subsistence whaling, which is ongoing as I write … it will be a long night.

 ***

Day 2 – Tuesday 12th July

On Tuesday, the IWC discussed ‘financial and administrative matters’, which was actually a lot more interesting than you might think, and certainly crucial to the way the IWC carries out its work.

The biggest proposal on the table at this year’s meeting is one from the UK to improve the governance and effectiveness of operations of the IWC. Part of the proposal aims to bring in measures which can help eliminate the corruption that has allegedly been rife within the organisation and was highlighted by a Sunday Times exposé last year – for example, countries would no longer be able to pay their contributions in cash but would have to pay via “bank transfer from an account belonging to the Contracting Government or to a state institution of that Government”.

IWC held in Jersey this year. Credit EIAIn addition, this proposal would ensure key documents such as the Scientific Committee report are available to observers, and that decisions are swiftly translated and available in the other two working languages of the Commission (French and Spanish).

The most controversial aspect of the UK proposal, however, was to do with the participation of observers (including NGOs such as EIA) in the IWC. For years, observers have had no speaking rights at the IWC, even though the Rules of Procedure actually allow us to speak. In recent years, there has been some attempt to improve this situation, with NGOs given a half-hour to present a limited number of views, usually at the end of the meeting when all the decisions have been taken. As you can imagine, with many conservation NGOs attending the IWC it has been a taxing and time-consuming task just to agree which NGOs can speak and on which issues. This initiative from the UK would bring the IWC up to some really basic standards which are already common practice in many multilateral environmental agreements.

UK Minister Richard Beynon was on hand to appeal to IWC member governments to adopt the proposals, which are not anti- or pro-whaling but a bare minimum required to show the world that the IWC continues to be a functional and effective body. In order to bring Denmark (part of the European Union, but basically representing the whaling interests of the Faroes & Greenland), the UK dropped the section on observer participation so the proposal could be presented by the EU group as a whole.

Photo of yesterday when the EU were trying to deal with St Kitts and Nevis / Russian Federation disruption of the discussion of their proposal. Credit Milko Schvartzman

Photo of yesterday when the EU were trying to deal with St Kitts and Nevis / Russian Federation disruption of the discussion of their proposal. Credit Milko Schvartzman

Despite these efforts to compromise, Saint Kitts & Nevis, the Russian Federation and other pro-whaling delegations successfully disrupted proceedings, which forced a private meeting of Commissioners to be held near the end of the day. The meeting then closed, with the promise of a revised proposal, from the UK, to be discussed first thing on Wednesday morning.

 ***

Day 1 – Monday 11th July

EIA is at the International Whaling Commission’s Annual Meeting taking place in Jersey this week. We were here all last week attending working group meetings (which discuss some of the substantive detail of many issues relating to whales) but now it is time for the decisions and politics.

Two really good things happened today – and I can honestly say I can’t recall that happening on the first day of an IWC meeting for many years. First, South African Commissioner Herman Oosthuizen agreed to chair the meeting. We were left without a Chair or Vice-Chair for the Commission at the end of last year’s meeting, and clearly this is a huge problem if the IWC is to continue developing its key role in the global management and conservation of whales and other cetaceans. Herman is greatly respected, has wide experience of the IWC and is open to fair and constructive participation by NGOs, unlike some delegates here who would rather conduct their business behind closed doors.

Minke Whale. © Joanne Weston | Dreamstime.com

Minke Whale. © Joanne Weston | Dreamstime.com

The second surprise was when we came to discussion of the Scientific Committee’s deliberations on the Revised Management Procedure (RMP) catch limits for North Atlantic fin whale. Now the Scientific Committee has not actually been asked to calculate catch limits because, as we all know, there is a ban on commercial whaling. However, since Iceland is pursuing unilateral rogue whaling of fin and minke whales, the Scientific Committee has been looking at which variants of the RMP would be appropriate to be able to provide advice on the sustainability of catches. Since 2010, the Scientific Committee has been clear in its advice that a catch of 46 fin whales is the currently acceptable catch limit – compare this to Iceland’s 2009 and 2010 catches of fin whales, which were 125 and 148 fin whales respectively. Despite this, last year no countries drew attention to the fact that Iceland’s catch was clearly unsustainable because all countries (other than Iceland) were attempting to avoid controversial issues in the hope that the IWC could agree a compromise whaling deal which would somehow satisfy both anti- and pro-whaling countries.

With the compromise whaling proposal dead in the water, it was refreshing to hear a number of countries speak eloquently in support of precautionary science in the conservation of whales. Monaco kicked off the debate by drawing attention to the fact that Iceland’s catches of fin whales are much higher than sustainable limits, and was supported by the UK, New Zealand, Mexico, US and Australia. The New Zealand Commissioner called Iceland’s whaling as risky, inappropriate and unlawful.

Renegade Whaling. Image Credit Jonas FreydalEIA came to the IWC with a new report on Iceland’s whaling and trade in whale products, determined to ensure that the IWC member countries recognise and respond to Iceland’s whaling, so this was a great start to the meeting and we’ll continue to lobby countries to pressure Iceland.

Other issues covered included a UK proposal to progress work on welfare and ethics. It was disappointing that Norway refused to participate but the work will go forward nonetheless and the UK will be working hard to try to persuade Norway and other whaling nations to contribute in the future.

The meeting started with a welcoming address from the Government of Jersey and it is a pleasure to stay on this beautiful island (even though we are basically sitting in a cave most of the time). Somehow Jersey’s eccentricities well suit the slightly eccentric IWC that continues to protect hundreds of thousands of great whales with the international ban on commercial whaling.

Twenty-five years after its implementation, the ongoing ban on whaling is still vital to the conservation of whales and we will continue to work hard every year to ensure it is maintained and to improve the effectiveness of the IWC.

Clare Perry

Clare Perry

Senior Campaigner

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ICELAND: A DEATH TRAP FOR FIN WHALES

Over the years, your support has made a big difference in EIA’s efforts to save endangered cetaceans from indiscriminate slaughter. Among our accomplishments, we have exposed and reduced the unsustainable Dall’s porpoise hunt in Japanand have reduced the demand for cetacean meat within the country. We would have never been able to do it without your support, so thank you for your generosity.

Donate NowBut whales are not safe yet. Right now, minke whales are under attack off the coasts of Iceland and Iceland is threatening to hunt endangered fin whales later in the year.Iceland’s whalers have grown increasingly bold despite the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling, catching 125 endangered fin whales in 2009 and in 2010, that number increased to 148. This year’s hunt quota is 154 fin whales. This is tragically significant since the global fin whale population has declined 70% in the last 80 years.

EIA has conducted an important investigation into the deplorable Icelandic fin whale hunt, and will publish an eye-opening report to be distributed this year at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and internationally.

By making a donation of £10 today, you can help EIA publish this report and be a vital part of our mission to expose the senseless atrocity of the hunt.

MILLIONAIRE LEADS BRUTAL WHALING CRUSADE

Fin Whale caught in Iceland. Credit EIA.

Fin Whale caught in Iceland. Credit EIA.

Shockingly, the revival of fin whale hunting within Iceland has been spearheaded by a single individual, a millionaire businessman with considerable ties toIceland’s most powerful fisheries company. While the country appears indifferent to the issue, he and his fellow whalers paint their activities as an integral part of the national Icelandic tradition.

The truth is that this man is not as concerned with Icelandic tradition as he purports to be. By reviving the Icelandic whaling industry, he hopes to create a valuable new market for whale products in Japan, making considerable profits at the expense of an endangered species.

Whale. Credit Debbie BellIceland is currently in negotiations to join the European Union, and seeking to continue whaling as an EU member. Many people in the Icelandic government are anti-whaling but are not able to address the issue as most of their information regarding the hunt comes straight from the whalers themselves. This lack of transparency is beneficial to the whaling industry and deadly for the whales. EIA has the evidence to inform the Icelandic government about what is really going on.

LAYERS OF TRAGEDY

Investigations by EIA earlier this year year showed that potentially a sizeable market for Icelandic whale products does in fact exist in Japan. However, some of the whale meat from Iceland is discarded once it reaches Japan because of its poor-quality, a saddening thought for those whales that lost their lives to obtain that meat.

What is equally disturbing about the current scenario in Icelandis that minke whale hunters and anti-whaling whale watching trips operate in the same waters. This means that the minke whales whose majestic beauty and grace are admired by curious whale watchers are the same creatures being caught and slaughtered by local whalers.

RAISING AWARENESS & TAKING A STAND                     DONATE TODAY.

EIA is the perfect organisation to tackle the whaling problem in Iceland. With our signature investigative approach, we have uncovered the information that the whalers don’t want brought to light. The information contained in our report will be impossible to ignore. The IWC will be forced to take a stand against the brutality of the Icelandic whaling industry.

The aim of our efforts is three-fold:

  • Raise awareness ofIceland’s whaling activity for financial and political ends
  • Obtain a formal statement from the IWC condemning the Icelandic fin whale hunt
  • Put international pressure on Icelandto terminate the fin whale hunt in the country

EIA urgently needs your help. Please donate to our efforts and help us stop whaling in Europe.

Donate by Text todayYours sincerely,

Clare Perry

Head of Cetaceans Campaign

Did you know?

The Fin Whale has been nicknamed the ‘greyhound of the sea’ as it’s one of the fastest cetaceans, reaching up to speeds of 25 mph!

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Premier Wen Jiabao

Premier Wen Jiabao

China’s Premier Wen Jiabao is coming to town and will be meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron. It’s going to be a regular date – they will meet annually under an existing arrangement over international cooperation on important issues.

We think tigers, and everything tigers represent, should be on their annual agenda, so let’s start now by sending an URGENT message to PM Dave today.

Ranthambore Tiger

Ranthambore Tiger

The next tiger-related meeting where the UK will be in the room with China is the 61st Meeting of the Standing Committee of the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The meeting will take place from 15-19th August 2011 in Geneva, so let’s see if we can build some momentum between now and then.

Here’s a suggestion of what you might want to say in a letter to Mr Cameron. Or, if you prefer to write your own letter, we’ve provided some background below.

You can post your message to this address:

10 Downing Street,
London,
SW1A 2AA

Or follow this link to send an email https://email.number10.gov.uk/Contact.aspx

*******************************************

Date

Honourable Prime Minister,

I am writing to respectfully request that you join other world leaders in committing to our future environmental security, as symbolised by the survival of the world’s favourite animal, the wild tiger.

I ask that you do this by raising the subject of tigers with Premier Wen Jiabao and his government during bilateral and multi-lateral engagements. Your office and government can help ensure that swift and meaningful action is taken to end the illegal trade in tiger parts and derivatives, and to secure vital tiger forests.

In November 2010, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin hosted an International Tiger Forum, where the leaders of tiger range countries committed to double the wild tiger population by 2022. Leaders recognised that the tiger is more than just a charismatic species, with a population at a tipping point of as few as 3500 individuals. The survival of the tiger is a symbol of good environmental governance: of how well we are managing the forests that millions depend upon for water security, and for mitigating climate change.

At the Forum, Premier Wen committed to cooperate with the international community to vigorously combat poaching and trade in tigers. Yet recent reports from the Chinese government fail to provide evidence of enforcement action in major illegal trade hubs that have been at the heart of the trade, where investigators from the UK Environmental Investigation Agency have documented traders selling tiger and other Asian big cat parts; Lhasa, Nagchu and Shigatse (TAR) Linxia (Gansu) and Xining (Qinghai).

There is little evidence of authorities in China proactively investigating the tiger trade in those areas. If they were, they could easily generate actionable intelligence on the transnational criminal networks involved, which could be shared with source countries to coordinate truly effective action against the trade.

Yet this is evidence that both CITES and the wider international community need to see, to believe that China is truly committed to the tiger.

By investing in a fulltime, dedicated and multi-agency enforcement unit, led by enforcement professionals and skilled investigators from police and Customs, China could make a significant dent on these criminal networks – along with a huge contribution, not just to tiger and other Asian big cat conservation, but all endangered species threatened by illegal trade, particularly rhinos and elephants.

You can help keep tigers high on Premier Wen’s political agenda just by raising the subject with him and discussing intelligence-led enforcement strategies. The UK has much experience to share in this regard, with its National Wildlife Crime Unit, and cooperation with INTERPOL, the World Customs Organisation and the CITES Secretariat.

The tiger unfortunately cannot rely on more empty promises; we may face the next Chinese Year of the Tiger in 2022 with nothing more than tigers in the zoo. That is not a vision of our future environment that any of us wish to see.

Yours sincerely,

XXXXX

Background:

What is China’s role in the tiger’s future? China banned the domestic trade in tiger bone in 1993, which was the beginning of efforts to end the use of tigers in traditional medicine. While the professional and academic community have been promoting alternatives to tiger bone, there are still business interests seeking to undermine this, especially those associated with tiger farming and the illegal trade in tiger bone wine. There is still a demand for the bones of wild tigers (and leopards as a substitute) while skin is in high demand among the wealthy, military and political elite.

Chinese government delegations at international meetings claim to have taken action against those involved in illegal trade in parts and derivatives of Asian big cats, yet EIA investigators find the same traders, year in, year out, selling skin and bone. (Read Enforcement not Extinction for more information http://www.eia-international.org/cgi/reports/reports.cgi?t=template&a=210 )

Whole Tiger skin offered to EIA Investigators

What do we want? We want Premier Wen to ensure political and financial investment in new mechanisms to combat the illegal trade in tigers and other Asian big cats in China. One of the most important things he can do in fulfilling his commitment to the Global Tiger Recovery Program – which seeks to double the world’s wild tiger population by 2022 – is to significantly enhance China’s efforts to end the tiger trade.

China needs a fulltime, multi-agency enforcement unit that will proactively investigate the networks of traders selling tiger, leopard and snow leopard skins and bones across the country, and generate intelligence on their association with traders in source countries like India and Nepal.

If EIA investigators can find these traders, see the skins and bones they have and learn about how they traffic them, surely, the authorities of a wealthy nation like China could manage to do the same?

Why should the Premier and Prime Minister care? The fact that none of the serious, organised and transnational criminal networks controlling tiger and other wildlife crime have been disrupted, despite all the information about them being relatively easily available, should be a huge worry to any leader concerned about security, corruption and combating all forms of organised crime that undermine social and economic stability. The failure to end the tiger trade is symbolic of the failure to ensure good environmental governance and the failure to fulfil Millennium Development Goals.

The tiger is also a symbol of the forests it lives in, the same forests that secure water for millions of people and mitigate climate change. The tiger is a cultural icon of religious significance, an inspiration to artists, business and the world’s favourite animal. If we can’t save the tiger, what can we save?

Please see here for a copy of  EIA Letter to Premier Wen(PDF)

Debbie Banks, Head of Tiger Campaign

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We always need connections…paperwork not important once you have connections, paperwork not important, they are only on paper…they can always be manipulated…”

- Singapore ozone-depleting substances (ODS) dealer

 When it comes to getting insights into what criminals think, EIA and our partners are in a pretty enviable position.

Our undercover investigators spend weeks at a time in the field, often in remote and dangerous places, rubbing shoulders with environmental criminals. Getting to know these people and their worlds. Gathering intelligence, developing leads, responding to opportunities and threats as they come up. Click here to read a previous blog by one of our investigators.

In the process, when our undercover investigators speak one-on-one with traders, create bonds, convince them of their authenticity…that in itself generates a wealth of information about how the illegal trade is conducted.

Who’s buying, who’s selling, what tricks to use to evade detection, and what the stakes are (or are not…) if you get caught.

 “…the government regulation will be avoided. Anyway, you are taking the small risk to earn big profits.”

- Chinese ODS import/exporter

Often, the information gained doesn’t just implicate the trader who’s spilling the beans. The web of complicity can extend to police contacts who should be enforcing the law – but instead tip off the traders before inspections take place; dodgy Customs contacts who’ll “facilitate” the safe passage of a shipment…even government officials have been directly implicated in the illegal trade.

Of course there are people who’ll shake their heads and say, “That’s a criminal you’re talking to. You can’t believe what they say!”

 “I think it’s better if you know who I am. I’m a law officer, I’m a policeman. Beside a policeman, I am also a businessman.”

- Policeman (and merbau smuggler) in Indonesia

 EIA uses specialist investigators. Cover is carefully planned, so it’s totally convincing.

Questions are open, so the traders talk of their own volition.

And verification is crucial. In presenting often explosive investigation findings, things have to be water-tight.

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I suppose that if you must conduct your business from the shadows, when you do find someone you trust, if might feel good to talk. From relief in shared complicity, from your ego being flattered, or to assure your new “customer” that they’re in safe hands – that you’re the only one to deal with, and you know your trade well.

Of course you’re not to know that this new “friend” is actually undercover EIA.

But it’s often precisely because these people are criminals that we should at least listen to what they say – take it as a starting point from where to investigate further. Whilst they can be excellent at describing their activities, they’ll often highlight the factors that make it all too easy for them to continue.

“…(Customs) need money also… all the people still need money. It goes up to the top.”

- Merbau dealer in Indonesia

It’s been said before, but anyway…crime is good at self-preservation. A criminal’s response to enforcement activity (like the interception of cargo) will be to adapt, necessarily at the drop of a hat. What was true of smuggling methods a year ago may since have been abandoned in favour of a different way of doing things. Likewise, as we’ve shown, the end markets can change. For investigators, rather than labouring under misconceptions and coming up short, keeping up to date with these changes is essential.

And while stats can give you an overview and insights, they can’t paint a picture the way a trader does when he describes the “many hands” through which a tiger skin passes – from when it’s skinned from the carcass in India and travels thousands of miles north into China.

But if enforcement agencies don’t see the value in conducting covert operations and engaging traders, how is anyone – including policy makers – except the criminals to know how things really work?

In 2009, traders voiced anticipation at the forthcoming Chinese Year of the Tiger: more demand for tiger skin = higher profits. Tasteless, frightening, but EIA listened. With the species already on the brink, identifying additional, future threats is crucial.

We recommend enforcement agencies speak to one another, share information, and collaborate – both domestically and internationally.

But enforcement agencies might also speak to criminals. Not only when a suspect is in custody, but proactively go out into the field, task covert investigations, dig deep, and hear what these people have to say. In terms of understanding the illegal trade – and saving species – the information gained can be gold dust.

The same information can also, and probably will, reveal uncomfortable truths. But if those truths are too hard to face, or believed to be insurmountable…well then forests, tigers, elephants – all of us – might as well accept defeat.

Charlotte Davies, Intelligence Analyst

Charlotte Davies

Intelligence Analyst

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The rhino is under siege – again*. Poaching and the smuggling of their horns has now been acknowledged as out of control. This is evidenced by the flurry of information from the field – particularly from South Africa (SA). Emails and text messages come in pretty much on a weekly basis.  Last night I received a text that reads: “pregnant white rhino cow shot 6-8 days ago @ Loodswaai GR, Cullinan.  Both horns removed…”  Loodswaai Game Reserve is not far from Pretoria, and boasts a luxury lodge. One assumes it’s well resourced and policed.   It’s like watching a juggernaut spiralling out of control in slow motion.

Check out the figures: in 2000, 7 rhino were poached in SA; in 2010, 333 were poached. So far this year, we’re looking at a running total of around 162.  That’s about one a day. The South Africans themselves have said they are struggling to cope – are not coping, in fact.  Despite bringing in the army and the police to help, they are now recruiting more rangers. South Africa is not alone.

Kenya has also seen a spate of poaching.  When I visited last month sources claimed that poachers were being commissioned to get rhino horn for as much as $25,000.  That’s a lot of money in a country where 60% of the population live on less than $1 a day.   And the penalties?  Trifling: as far as the poor guy struggling to feed his family is concerned, it’s well worth taking the risk. Many have – and have also paid the ultimate price. Poachers in both Kenya and South Africa have been killed – 14 in South Africa this year alone.  The real criminals, the middlemen and bosses of the organised criminal syndicates that perpetrate the crimes, continue to operate with impunity.

Last week the Ivory and Rhinoceros Enforcement Task Force of CITES (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species) met to discuss how to combat the organised syndicates that target rhinos and elephants.  The message coming out of the meeting is that there is an urgent need for a coordinated effort at a national and international level.  It’s a bit like listening to a broken record and while we talk around the houses, it’s business as usual for the Mafioso types who are raking in the dosh – and another step towards annihilation for the beleaguered pachyderms.  Actions speak louder than words, but action seems to take an age.  The message is also confused.  Dawie Groenwald, a game farmer from Limpopo province in SA was arrested last year – along with eleven others –on charges relating to rhino poaching.  The case, still pending, has captured world attention: a criminal syndicate in action.  Yet the bail for Groenwald, the alleged leader of the group, has been reduced from R 1 million (about US $140,000) to R 100,000 (US $14,000).  What does that say?

As for where the horn is going – and why?  Don’t get me started…


Mary Rice Executive Director

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* In 1992 EIA led a campaign to ban the trade of rhino horn used for traditional Chinese medicine. Taiwan was arguably the largest east-Asian market for rhinoceros horn, and horns were openly displayed in the windows of traditional pharmacies, giving the impression that buying and using rhino horn was an acceptable activity. Four days after we launched a boycott of Taiwanese goods, the Taiwan government announced a ban on domestic rhino horn trade and within months there were reports that the poaching of rhinos across Africa had decreased.  Further undercover  footage of one tonne of rhino horn in China – at least 330 dead rhino – prompted China to take enforcement action on domestic rhino horne trade.

Following intense pressure from the NGO community and widespread publicity, the Taiwanese authorities clamped down on rhino horn sales, While the reduction in poaching may have resulted to some extent from increased anti-poaching effort in some range States, consumer education and effective enforcement in Taiwan played a significant part in reducing the poaching pressure on rhino populations at that time.

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