WorldScan: September 6, 2002

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Urgent Focus on Endangered Western African Chimps

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast, September 6, 2002 (ENS) - Africa's endangered western chimpanzee is the object of an urgent action plan to be announced September 13 by an international group of scientists and government officials meeting in Abidjan.

The plan will be finalized during a conference September 12 and 13 at the Golf Hotel, with chimp conservation experts from Africa, the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Japan, France, the Netherlands, Italy and Portugal.

Côte d'Ivoire's Prime Minister Affi N'Guessan is scheduled to speak during the opening session.

The goal is to reach a consensus among government officials, researchers, protected area managers and private conservation groups to take specific steps to halt or reverse the decline in chimpanzee numbers in West Africa.

The western chimpanzee, one of four subspecies of the common chimpanzee, has disappeared from three countries - Benin, the Gambia and Togo - and is almost extinct in four other countries - Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea Bissau and Senegal. Current estimates of western chimpanzee populations are at about four percent of an original 600,000 across its range of 13 West African countries.

"We stand to lose one of the human species closest relatives, as well as a species with one of the most fascinating and complex social systems in the Animal Kingdom," said Dr. Tetsuro Matsuzawa of Kyoto University, who runs one of the longest term studies of chimpanzees in Africa.

The meeting is co-sponsored by the Center for Applied Biodiversity Science (CABS) and the West Africa Program at Conservation International (CI), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Great Ape Survival Project, and the Primate Action Fund. It is being co-organized by CI, the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation, and Kyoto University.

The West African forest is falling to agricultural development and logging, leaving nowhere for the chimps to live, scientists warn.

Christophe Boesch, of Germany's Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, said, "When I started 22 years ago to work in the Taï forest, the last hundred kilometers were through a vegetation green tunnel. Today you have to drive all the way to the national park limits to see the first patch of forest. The trend has been the same throughout West African forest regions."

Chimps have been killed by the thousands by hunters seeking meat for the bushmeat trade, for the pet trade and historically for biomedical research.

Bushmeat trade in chimp meat is a serious problem also because of severe health risks posed to humans who eat chimpanzee meat, CI scientists say. "Several cases of the deadly Ebola virus in humans has been directly traced to infected chimpanzees in West Africa. Chimpanzees in Central Africa are also believed to have been the source of the HIV virus in humans," the organization said today.

"In West Africa, people rely more heavily on bush meat for food than in many other regions of the world. Chimps are particularly vulnerable because they are so slow to reproduce, and they are conspicuous and easy to hunt," said Dr. Rebecca Kormos, CABS research fellow.

Most western chimpanzees inhabit a region known as the Guinean Forest of West Africa, designated by CI as one of the world's 25 biodiversity hotspots. These 25 areas cover just 1.4 percent of the Earth's land, and hold more than 60 percent of the total terrestrial species diversity.

"It's no coincidence that urgent conservation action is necessary for a primate species found within the Guinean Forest Hotspot, which is one of the top five hotspots for endangered primates on Earth," said Russell Mittermeier, CI President and United Nations Environment Programme Special Envoy for the Great Apes Survival Project.

"Chimpanzees are an important flagship species for this important region," he said, "and their fate mirrors much of what is in store for the vast range of species diversity found there."

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CITES Clamps Down on Thai Tiger Poachers

LONDON, UK, September 6, 2002 (ENS) - A special mission from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) traveled to Thailand this week to examine the growing number wildlife criminals.

Despite being a signatory to CITES which bans trade in tiger parts and derivatives, Thailand is still a haven for wildlife criminals. "Thailand's Tiger Economy," a new report by the London based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), reveals the extent to which enforcement authorities are turning a blind eye to illegal trade in tigers and tiger parts.

"Our investigators were shocked to discover how easy it was to find tiger products being manufactured and sold in Bangkok," said Debbie Banks of EIA. "We were also informed by a Thai tiger breeder that he believes between 100 to 200 live tiger cubs are smuggled from Thailand to China each year from the many illegal tiger breeding facilities operating throughout Thailand. If an NGO can get hold of that kind of information, it begs the question, what are the enforcement authorities doing?"

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which administers CITES, held a special workshop for high level judges in late August, just before the World Summit on Sustainable Development, to increase awareness among the judiciary of the need to escalate the prosecution of environmental crime.

"EIA welcomes the dispatch of the special CITES Mission to Thailand," said Banks. "If the government there is truly committed to CITES and good environmental governance, we can look forward to some decisive action to strengthen legislation and ensure its effective enforcement."

The CITES Secretariat will prepare a report on trade and conservation of tigers, including an account of the Thai mission, as a submission to the 12th Conference of the Parties to CITES to be held in Chile this November.

The world’s tiger population has plummeted, during the last 100 years, down by 95 percent from an estimated 100,000 to fewer than 6,000 today. Tigers are threatened by illegal trade of their skins, bones and other body parts as luxury items and for use in Asian traditional medicines.

The destruction of the forests that tigers depend upon is also a major threat, along with the decline in the tigers' natural prey species due to poaching and habitat loss.

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Two New Vehicles Help Patrol Uganda Parks

KAMPALA, Uganda, September 6, 2002 (ENS) - The International Fund for Animal Welfare ( has presented two vehicles to the Uganda Wildlife Authority for deployment in Queen Elizabeth and Kidepo Valley National Parks. The four-wheel drive vehicles, worth US$94,000, will be used for law enforcement surveillance and park administration.

IFAW has worked closely with the Uganda Wildlife Authority for more than a decade, providing financial and technical support to help the government agency develop and promote the two Parks, as well as for relocation of elephant populations from areas of human-wildlife conflict to protected parks.

Receiving the vehicles on behalf of the wildlife agency, Professor Edward Rugumayo, Uganda's Minister of Tourism, Trade & Industry, expressed Uganda's appreciation and anticipated an ongoing cooperation with the nongovernmental organization.

"UWA has benefited tremendously in logistical support with assistance from IFAW, and not merely giving and receiving donations," Rugumayo said. "IFAW's support has contributed towards improving the management of the two parks, resulting in stable and in some cases increase in animal populations such as elephant."

Fred O'Regan, IFAW president and CEO, used his remarks at the presentation ceremony to make his case that the present ban on trade in elephant ivory should not be lifted.

"Uganda's elephant population are been on an increase since the late 1980s," O'Regan said, "and this has been attributed directly to the global ban in ivory trade as well as revamping of law enforcement in the protected areas. This trend, however, can be greatly jeopardized by the recent proposals made by five Southern Africa countries which have announced dangerous proposals in preparation of the CITES meeting in November."

In July, IFAW reaffirmed its commitment to assist Uganda in developing a conservation based eco-tourism industry, and announced a further grant to the Uganda Wildlife Authority totaling US$95,000 in support of law enforcement programs in Kidepo Valley and Queen Elizabeth national parks.

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Norwegian Biologist Wants to Kill Keiko

BERGEN, Norway, September 6, 2002 (ENS) - Keiko, the killer whale who became famous as the star of the Free Willy movies, should be killed, says Nils Ølen, a marine biologist with Havforsnings Institute in Bergen. Environmental groups around the world reacted in horror to the suggestion that the whale just released to the wild after 20 years in captivity should die at the hands of humans.

Free in the open ocean only since July, this week Keiko followed a Norwegian fishing vessel and entered a small harbor in Skaalvik Fjord, located about 250 miles from Oslo. There he interacted with several vessels and members of the public. Some of them fed the famous whale and entered the water to swim with him, climb on his back and play with him.

Ølen said this week that Keiko should be euthanized because the whale is not suited to be in the wild, is a waste of money, and is eating Norwegian fish.

A Norwegian government official has offered reassurances that Keiko will not be harmed, despite Ølen's suggestion that Keiko should be destroyed. On Friday, the Norwegian government banned physical contact with Keiko.

Born in Iceland, Keiko was captured and displayed in aquariums in Iceland, Canada and Mexico, before filming for Free Willy began in 1992. The sick, captive orca was rehabilitated to the wild in an eight year long multi-million dollar process in a specially constructed tank at the Oregon Coast Aquarium and in a training pen in Klettsvik Bay, Iceland.

Keiko was released into the open ocean in July. This represents the longest period Keiko has been in the wild since his capture more than 20 years ago, says the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) which is participating in his return to the wild.

"The reports of children frolicking with Keiko are very troubling," the HSUS says. "The effort to free Keiko is in jeopardy because of these irresponsible activities. We plead with the public to leave Keiko alone."

The Norwegian newspaper "Dagbladet" contacted Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society on Tuesday for his reaction to the recommendation that Keiko be killed.

In a conversation with Gunnar Hagen, a reporter for "Dagbladet," Watson said, "Killing seems to be the first thought that comes to mind for many Norwegians when they see a whale. I would like to warn Norway that if Keiko is killed or injured in Norwegian waters it will be a major public relations blunder. Norway is already stigmatized as a nation that is illegally killing whales. Kill Keiko and suffer the wrath of world public opinion, especially the wrath of the world's children."

"As for wasting money to help Keiko," said Watson, "it is not Norwegian money and therefore it is none of Norway's business how much money is spent to help Keiko. It's better to 'waste' money on a whale than it is to waste whales for money."

"It is my hope that Keiko will teach the Norwegians a thing or two about whales and that they will learn that these gentle, majestic, highly intelligent and social animals are more valuable alive than dead," Watson said.

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Orca Springer Reunites with her Family Pod

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Canada, September 6, 2002 (ENS) - A two year old orca that was returned to her birth pod in Canada after being left alone in Puget Sound when her mother disappeared, is integrating well with the other whales, fisheries observers say. The young killer whale, known as A73 to scientists and as Springer to everyone else, has been seen swimming in Johnstone Strait with the group of whales into which she was born.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada biologist Graeme Ellis has reported that Springer is swimming in close association with two different female whales that are, at different times, each behaving as her mother.

Springer was captured from Puget Sound earlier this year partly because, in her need to socialize, the sick and lonely young orca was approaching and rubbing on boats.

The orca was placed first in a temporary pen in Manchester, Washington and then transported to a net enclosure in Dong Chong Bay on Hanson Island, in Johnstone Strait, British Columbia, an area that her family frequents in the summer months.

Orca expert Dr. Paul Spong, who operates the OrcaLab whale observatory on Hanson Island, reports that he has seen Springer swimming in the company of her great grandmother, whale A30, called Tsitika.

Writing about Springer's movements in his journal on July 27, Spong observed, "The group proceeded to head on down to the rubbing beaches, went in for a lengthy rub and then turned around and headed back to the west. Eventually, later in the afternoon, they joined up with the A30s and the rest of the A5s, and headed north through Blackney Pass. They passed OrcaLab in a tightly bunched group, with Springer right there in the middle."

Spong reports the young whale completely ignored the OrcaLab boat, an indication that she no longer needs to rub on boats now that she is back with her own kind.

"It is too early to know what all this means, of course, or whether she will stay with her birth pod," says Lance Barrett-Lennard of the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre. "What is clear is that she is healthy, socializing well, and showing no tendency to approach and/or rub on boats. Good news all round."

This is the first time scientists have attempted to reunite a lost killer whale in the wild with its family. John Nightingale, director of the Vancouver Aquarium, says the aquarium team "is delighted to put several decades of animalcare and field research to use in this operation," which has taught biologists important lessons.

Officials may use that knowledge to help another whale, now swimming alone in an inlet on western Vancouver Island after becoming separated from its U.S. based pod.