Seahorse black market devastates Italy’s coast

Seahorse black market devastates Italy’s coast

SOURCE: Oxpeckers DATE: December 19, 2019 SNIP: Every night dozens of wooden boats loaded with fishing equipment pass under the Punta Penna bridge and into the protected waters of the Mar Piccolo, a unique saltwater lagoon in the southern Italian port city of Taranto. Trawling nets, cage traps and even homemade bombs are deployed into the moonlit waters by those in search of lucrative prey. “It’s like my father picking lemons and making limoncello at home,” says Luciano Manna, a local activist who has been monitoring the illegal activity for five years. “It’s too easy.” The lagoon is so rich in biodiversity – with long-snouted seahorses, prized mussels, rare seaweeds, greater pipefish and loggerhead sea turtles among its native species – that marine biologists call it a “living eco-museum”. But an organised illegal wildlife trade with links to China is quietly devastating the Mar Piccolo and many other coastal habitats across the Puglia region, with experts warning that endangered marine species are being pushed to the brink of extinction. Michele Gristina, who works for Italy’s Institute for Coastal Marine Environment, has been studying the seahorses in Taranto for nearly 20 years. Once one of the largest concentrations in Europe, the seahorse population collapsed between 2016 and 2017. The only explanation, he says, is poaching. “We tried to explain it [the decline] with environmental reasons such as the spread of pollution, water temperature or oxygen depletion, but it wasn’t the reason,” says Gristina. “People have seen there are a lot of seahorses and that money can be made, and they have begun to hunt them. In my opinion, seahorses along...
Rhinos on the brink as poachers run riot in Botswana

Rhinos on the brink as poachers run riot in Botswana

SOURCE: The Times (UK) DATE: December 18, 2019 SNIP: Botswana’s tiny population of rhinoceroses is being “hammered” towards extinction by poachers in a surge of slaughter that is being left unchallenged by the government, conservationists have said. Their warning came after the deaths of two southern white rhinos were reported yesterday. Their carcasses were found last week, minus horns, on Chief’s Island in the northern Okavango Delta, home to the country’s fewer than 400 rhinos. Conservationists say 17 other rhinos have been illegally killed since April for their horns, which can fetch $50,000 a kilogram. The poaching rate had been about one a month. The rise in killings threatens to destroy Botswana’s efforts to reintroduce the animals, which had been wiped out there until a herd was imported at the turn of the century. Poaching has soared since the election of President Masisi in October. He lifted a five-year hunting ban on elephants, saying that the population needed to be controlled. Ross Harvey, an independent economist in South Africa who specialises in wildlife, said that drought and the failure of Mr Masisi’s government to stop the poachers had created a “perfect storm” that threatened a new extirpation. “Rhinos are being hammered in Botswana,” he said. “Their reintroduction was a major win but the Masisi government appears to have intentionally undermined those efforts. Wildlife is no longer being managed and the risk-reward ratio for poachers has changed. “In the absence of law enforcement we are losing rhinos but also the profound effort to reintroduce them. Chief’s Island was well protected and surrounded by water but much of that is gone...