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Elephants Warn when Humans are Near

 

Elephant Background

Photo from 1,000,000 Pictures

We recently posted a blog about the increase in poaching by terrorist groups.  These groups sell the ivory obtained on the black market to fund their terrorist activities.

Researchers from Oxford University recently discovered that elephants emit a distinct low rumbling sound when humans approach and believe that it may be a warning single to other elephants that “humans” are nearby. In 2010, researchers discovered elephants also have a distinctive “bee alarm rumble”, which, when played, causes the animals to flee while shaking their heads. The researchers believe that the head shaking is likely an attempt to kill the insects.

 

The fact that elephants appear to have two different rumble sounds for bees and for humans have led to them to think that may have a more sophisticated verbal communication than previously realized.

“The acoustic analysis [of the rumbles] showed that the difference between the ‘bee alarm rumble’ and the ‘human alarm rumble’ is the same as a vowel-change in human language, which can change the meaning of words (think of ‘boo’ and ‘bee’),” Dr. King explained to the Oxford blog. “Elephants use similar vowel-like changes in their rumbles to differentiate the type of threat they experience, and so give specific warnings to other elephants who can decipher the sounds.”

Accordingly to a recent report by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, as many as 20% of Africa’s elephants could be killed in the next 10 years if illegal poaching continues at the current rate.  25,000 elephants were poached in 2011 and 22,000 in 2012.

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Death of the Honey Bees

honey bees

If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.                                        

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 A quote often ascribed to Albert Einstein

It is not known whether the above quote was really made by Albert Einstein but we do know that some mysterious disease has wiped out about a third of the commercial colonies of honeybees since 2006.   This phenomenon is known as colony collapse disorder or CCD.

Honeybees are a critical component of the production of crops that make up about ¼ of our diet and, according to the Agriculture Department, pollination by honeybees adds about $15 billion in the value of crops each year. An international study of 115 food crops grown in over 200 countries showed that 75% of the crops were pollinated by animals, especially by bees.

Many possible causes have been studied and most researchers suspect that a host of viruses, parasites and possibly other factors like pesticides are working together to kill the bees.

A recent study suggests that the mass die-offs of honeybees may be linked to a rapidly mutating virus that jumped from tobacco plants to soy plants to bees.   The researchers found that the increase in honeybee deaths generally starts in autumn and peaks in winter and may be correlated with increasing infections by a variant of the tobacco ringspot virus.

Bees are a keystone species and vital to the systems that support food production for human beings.   Their rapid destruction is a poignant example of the inter-relationship and importance of the many species in our eco-systems.

For more information, we suggest:

Bee Deaths May Stem From Virus Study Says, New York Times

Bee Colony Collapses Are More Complex Than We Thought, US News & World Report

Colony Collapse Disorder, How Stuff Works

Vanishing Bees

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Terrorists Profit from Poaching Wildlife

Rhino Poaching

There are many reasons to fight against unlawful poaching of animal species on this planet,  not least of which is preservation of critical ecosystems and moral recognition that we humans do not own Mother Earth.  However, a new dynamic has developed that should persuade even big game hunters.

Since 2011, Kenya has seen elephant poaching rise to unsustainable levels, fueled by the unprecedented increase in the market value of ivory by 1500% in four years to about $1,000 per pound.   About 30,000 elephants were killed illegally in 2012, the highest number in 20 years.   Known as “white gold,”  countries in the Far East (and in particular, China and Vietnam), refuse to ban the sale of ivory and, as the price escalates, the magnitude of poaching escalates.  While many of us in the US wish we could take the high road on this issue, the New York Times reports that the US is the second-largest consumer (after China) of illegal animal products like elephant ivory, rhinoceros horn and tiger bone.

Elephants are not the only species suffering from increased poaching.  The black market price for horns from rhinoceros is about $30,000 per pound or, as described by Grant Harris (senior director for Africa for the National Security Council) “literally worth greater than their weight in gold.”   In 2013, South Africa lost more than 450 rhinos, which could be a record loss.

In a report filed by Ian J. Saunders with the International Conservation Caucus Foundation (ICCF) in April 2013, Mr. Saunders reported that terrorism is playing a substantial role in the increase in poaching elephants in Africa:

“The rapid escalation of the threat to elephants is due to heightened levels of participation from the heavily armed poaching gangs, often hailing from Somalia, operating either for organized crime syndicates or from fundamentalist organizations.   Ivory has the potential to provide an easily accessible and untraceable source of revenue to terrorist and extremist organizations in both Kenya and Somalia, providing a direct threat to the U.S. and its African allies.” 

Experts believe that the recent terrorist attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, which left more than 68 dead and more than 150 injured, was fueled in part by illegal profits obtained from illegal poaching.   The attack was conducted by the terrorist group Al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda-backed terrorist group from Somalia.   Al-Shabaab reportedly was forced out of several areas in which it had produced significant funds from illegal trafficking in coal.  To replace those funds, al-Shabaab began trafficking in illegal ivory obtained from poaching elephants.  Studies by the Elephant Action League conclude that al-Shabaab’s  illegal trafficking in ivory could be supplying up to 40% of its funds.

In response, President Obama formed a cabinet-level Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking in July 2013 to devise a national strategy for reducing poaching.   In addition, the US destroyed six tons of illegal African elephant ivory in order to send a message of zero tolerance, reduce the appeal of ivory, rhinoceros horns and other illicit animal products, and send a clear signal that these products should not be perceived as valuable.   Other countries have followed suit.

According to the Washington Post,  the hunting of elephants, rhinos, sharks and other species in developing nations for sale in wealthier countries as valued at $7 billion to $10 billion per year, placing it among drugs and human trafficking as one of the world’s top illegal markets.    The interconnection between wildlife and humans is succinctly defined by Monica Median, former assistant to several Secretaries of Defense:

“Elephant poaching is the latest example of how our

‘natural security’ impacts our national security.”

For more information, we recommend the following:

Lessons From Iraq and Afghanistan Poaching Crisis, ICCF

How Elephant Poaching Helped Fund Kenyan Terrorist Attack, Treehugger.com

Obama Announces Initiative To Combat Wildlife Trafficking, Washington Post

In a Message to Poachers, U.S. to Destroy Its Ivory, New York Times