Best of our wild blogs: 13 Sep 16

"Let's fly sky lanterns" all across Singapore
wild shores of singapore

Recommendation Paper on the Implementation of a Plastic Bag Charge in Singapore
Zero Waste Singapore

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Conservation group, RWS end tie-up earlier than planned

Audrey Tan Straits Times 13 Sep 16;

What was meant to be a five-year partnership between a global conservation group and Singapore's Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) has ended two years earlier than expected.

The partnership between the United States-based Conservation International (CI) and RWS started in 2013 and aimed to further conservation and public education efforts in areas like marine biology.

But only one project has been undertaken since then - a 10-month initiative to tag manta rays and track their movements in Indonesia, which started in September 2014. "With this work completed, and with no further initiatives planned with RWS, CI has decided to end the partnership ahead of the planned cessation in 2018," said a CI spokesman.

A spokesman for RWS said it will "continue to explore partnership opportunities with leading organisations which are deeply committed to the protection of the oceans". Both parties did not give other reasons for their parting of ways.

Observers sceptical of RWS' conservation efforts were not sorry to hear of the end of the partnership.

"We are unsure what actually led to the end of their partnership, but it is a relief to hear it has ceased," said veterinary nurse Muhammad Hafiz'zan Shah, of marine conservation group Wildlife Watcher Singapore, who said the partnership was questionable from the start.

He noted that RWS had bought dolphins caught in the wild from the Solomon Islands. The Straits Times understands that some local conservation groups which RWS had approached to collaborate on conservation initiatives had declined to do so due to "ethical obligations".

A key discovery of the 2014 project was a manta ray nursery in Raja Ampat, Indonesia - the first in South-east Asia. That led the authorities there to begin implementing laws to curtail speedboat use in the nursery. However, soon after RWS announced the project, news broke that two of its newly acquired manta rays had died while in quarantine.

Since 2010, RWS has lost four of its 27 wild-caught bottlenose dolphins. It drew flak from as early as 2006 for plans to house wild-caught dolphins in a tank in its Marine Life Park. In its defence, it said such exhibits are useful for education and conservation efforts.

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Singapore flagged as major transit point for illegal ivory trade

SIAU MING EN Today Online 13 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE — Although the domestic market for ivory is small, Singapore has, for the first time, been named “a country of primary concern” by wildlife monitoring network Traffic, for its role as a transit point for illegal ivory trade from Africa to other Asian countries.

The Republic was grouped with Malaysia, Malawi and Togo for their role as a major transit hub in the illegal ivory trade in a report Traffic produced for a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) conference to be held in South Africa this month. Singapore’s inclusion on the list of countries of primary concern will be discussed at the conference, where proposals to increase or decrease controls on international trade in wildlife and wildlife products are also on the agenda.

Using data from 2012 to 2014, Traffic found that Singapore and these countries rarely made ivory seizures and were seldom implicated in seizures made by others. But where there were seizures, the cases tended to involve large quantities. This group had the greatest proportion of seizures that weighed 800kg or more, suggesting that the bulk of the illicit ivory traffic was part of a “higher-level organised criminal activity”, said Traffic.

This group of countries also had a “rather poor” mean law enforcement ratio, which suggested that “considerable quantities of illicit ivory traffic probably move through these countries without being detected”, said Traffic. The figure was calculated by taking the number of seizures each country makes, and dividing it by the total number of seizures the country is implicated in.

The sale of ivory was banned worldwide in 1989. In places like China and Hong Kong, ivory is used in ornaments, jewellery and at times, in traditional Chinese medicine.

Assessing the results, Traffic said that shipping ivory through Singapore — which became more prominent between 2012 and 2014 — is possibly an alternative to Malaysia. The latter remains a leading transit destination for large ivory consignments.

Speaking to TODAY, Traffic’s ivory expert Tom Milliken said Singapore is being “used against its will as a trans-shipment point” so that ivory can reach destinations such as Vietnam and China.

“They are also banking on the fact that 30 million containers move through Singapore every year so the odds are in their favour that their shipment will pass through without its contents detected,” he said.

In response to TODAY’s queries, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said it has handled 12 cases of illegal ivory import or transshipment in the past decade. About 10 tonnes of ivory from countries such as Congo, Kenya, Nigeria, and the United States were seized. On top of efforts at regulating trade and public education, the AVA said it also collaborates with international, regional and national enforcement agencies on intel-sharing, risk assessment or profiling to target high-risk shipments, border inspections and investigations.

Asked about the report, the AVA said it has reviewed it and the proposal to list some countries as a “country of primary concern” will be discussed at the upcoming Cites meeting.

Dr Milliken suggested that the AVA commit more resources to stop illegal wildlife trade. “The criminal syndicates are using Singapore because they know that the emphasis is on the interdiction of drugs, but not wildlife contraband. They are exploiting that situation,” he said.

For example, sniffer dogs here are used only to detect drugs and not ivory and rhino horn.

“It would be good to expand the capabilities of the canine units to address wildlife crime — this has been very effectively done in a lot of other countries,” said Dr Milliken. Despite this, he noted that Singapore has been doing a “good job” and important seizures have been made, he added.

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Likelihood of haze low as rain is expected over Sumatra: NEA

Today Online 12 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE — A day after cautioning that prevailing winds could bring haze from Indonesia to Singapore, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said rain is expected over central and southern Sumatra over the next few days, and the likelihood of Singapore being affected by transboundary haze is low.

A total of eight hotspots were detected in southern Sumatra on Monday (Sept 12). The low hotspot count was due to a partial satellite pass, when the orbiting satellite’s field of view covers just part of a region of interest, the NEA said. There was no visible smoke observed in the vicinity of the hotspots.

A day earlier, 28 hotspots were detected in Sumatra.

Monday saw thundery showers over many parts of Singapore, and air quality was in the good to moderate range. As of 6pm on Monday, the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) readings were 36-55, in the moderate range. The one-hour PM2.5 concentration readings were 8 to 15 micrograms per cubic metre, in the normal band.

The NEA said air quality was likely to remain unchanged on Tuesday. Thundery showers are expected in the late morning and early afternoon.

“For the next few days, the prevailing winds are forecast to continue blowing from the south or south-west. Showers are expected over central and southern Sumatra. The likelihood of Singapore being affected by transboundary haze is low,” the NEA said.

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Zika cases in Singapore reach 333

Today Online 13 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE — Another four cases of Zika were confirmed as of 12pm on Monday (Sept 12), bringing the total number of locally transmitted cases in Singapore to 333.

The authorities provided this updated figure on the National Environment Agency’s website late Monday night.

As of Monday, it no longer issued daily advisories breaking down the numbers.

The number of clusters remained unchanged, at seven. These are in Aljunied Crescent/Sims Drive/Paya Lebar Way/Kallang Way/Circuit Road/Geylang East Central/Geylang East Avenue 1; Bedok North Avenue 2/Bedok North Avenue 3/Bedok North Street 3; Joo Seng Road; Bishan Street 12; Elite Terrace; Ubi Crescent; and Jalan Raya/Circuit Road.

The bulk of the cases are in the Aljunied cluster, at 269.

The second-biggest is the Elite Terrace cluster, with seven cases, all emerging in the last two weeks.

As of Sunday, there were eight cases involving pregnant women. “Their doctors are following up closely with them to provide support and counselling,” the MOH and the NEA said in a joint statement on Sunday.

Vector control operations and outreach efforts in the existing seven cluster areas are ongoing. As of Saturday, a total of 202 breeding habitats have been found and destroyed in the cluster areas, of which 121 are in homes, and 81 in common areas/other premises.

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Malaysia: Come up with a plan on ivory trafficking, CITES says

SIM LEOI LEOI The Star 13 Sep 16;

PETALING JAYA: The Convention on Inter­national Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has requested that Malaysia “enhance efforts” to tackle ivory trafficking.

The request was put to Malaysia during the 66th meeting by the standing committee under CITES in January.

This came after a study by wildlife trade watchdog Traffic found that Malaysia had be­­come the world’s leading transit country for African ivory bound for the Asian market.

CITES flagged Malaysia as one of the eight countries of “primary concern”. As one of these countries, Malaysia had been requested to come out with its own NIAPs (national ivory action plans) which will help implement CITES provisions in regards to the trade.

In the Geneva meeting, Malaysia was also asked by the committee to report on the mea­­sures taken to implement its NIAPs by June 30. It also noted that Malaysia – as well as Uganda and Tanzania – had yet to “substantially achieve” their NIAPs.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar was reported as saying that Malaysia had drafted and submitted its NIAPs as required by CITES and that this was being implemented.

He also said that he would call for a meeting soon to address the issue in Malaysia as well as join forces with other countries to end wildlife poaching and smuggling.

Malaysia’s efforts on NIAPs are expected to come under scrutiny at a CITES Conference of Parties meeting in South Africa from Sept 24 to Oct 5.

Perhilitan enforcement director Hasnan Yu­­sop said it was working closely with both In­­terpol and Asean Wildlife Enforcement Agency (Asean-WEN) to clamp down on all transnational illegal wildlife trade and not just ivory.

“Wildlife crime is a big business and run by international networks. Wildlife and parts are traded much like illegal drugs and arms. Perhilitan is working closely with Interpol and Asean-WEN to curb transational illegal wildlife,” he said.

Perhilitan, said Hasnan, already had its enforcement staff stationed at most major points such as the KLIA, Penang International Airport, Senai, Port Klang and CIQ Sultan Iskandar.

“Wildlife trafficking occurs at airports that use air cargo and postal services,” he said.

Asked if staff in transportation services could have been involved in such trafficking or whether these were carried out by passengers, Hasnan said: “Due to the frequent change in modus operandi and sophisticated concealment method, several parties may be involved.”

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Indonesia: Govt deploys 3,500 personnel to fight forest fires in W. Kalimantan

The Jakarta Post 13 Sep 16;

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) has deployed 3,500 personnel to fight forest and plantation fires in West Kalimantan.

BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the personnel would focus on containing fires in Kubu Raya, Mempawah, Landak, Bengkayang, Sanggau, Sekadau, Sintang, Melawi, Kapuas Hulu and Kayong Utara regencies.

"We are facing huge challenges on the field, among other things, the bad habit of burning forests to clear them for farming," Sutopo was quoted by Antara news agency on Monday.

Aside from that, the agency is facing a water shortage to put out the fires through water bombing activities.

According to him, the agency had also detected new hot spots "since many people are burning land during the day."

He lamented that some regencies, including Ketapang and Sambas, had yet to raise their emergency statuses despite the increasing number of hot spots detected in their respective areas. (dmr)

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Indonesia: RAPP to Stop Development in Pulau Padang After Objections by Locals

Muhamad Al Azhari Jakarta Globe 12 Sep 16;

Jakarta. Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper, or RAPP, the Indonesia-based producer of fiber, pulp and paper and a subsidiary of the April Group, agreed to cease development of a retention basin on its concession in Pulau Padang, Riau province, after a conflict with the local community.

Community members filed a report with the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) against RAPP's affiliate responsible for the basin development in Bagan Melibur village in Meranti district, fearing that it will drain the area, which is identified as peatland. Ecosystem conservation regulations forbid developments deeper than three meters.

The Ministry of Environment and Forestry met with RAPP executives and BRG officials on Friday (09/09) to discuss the issue.

BRG is a new non-structural agency that reports directly to President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo. It is responsible for the restoration of peatland areas in Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, Papua and Kalimantan, which were destroyed in last year's disastrous wildfires.

RAPP has agreed to cease its activities in the disputed area.

"We agreed that RAPP must cease its activities temporarily until the hydrological mapping of the area is complete," Forestry Ministry secretary general Bambang Hendroyono told reporters in Jakarta.

He added that the mapping should be ready in three months.

RAPP president director Tony Wenas apologized on behalf of the company for operational and procedural misunderstandings with regard to the suspended development. He said RAPP remains committed to peatland restoration programs.

BRG head Nazir Foead said the agency has sent up drones to find out whether RAPP's affiliates were digging drains in the disputed area.

"We have checked with our drones; the basin's sides were not connected. It did not look like a canal," he said.

Nazir reportedly witnessed a spat between the local community and security officers in the Bagan Melibur concession on Sept. 5.

According to RAPP, the conflict was related to the retention basin it was developing to prevent wildfires in the area.

The local community has accused RAPP's affiliate of damaging peatlands, forests and traditional sago plantations. According to them, the wildfires in recent years have been caused by water drainage in the area.

The government is investigating whether RAPP's development is damaging the local ecosystem and has suggested that it be closed if conflicts with the sago farmers continue.

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Thai authorities downplay Zika risk, worried by tourism impact

Channel NewsAsia 12 Sep 16;

BANGKOK: Health and city officials in Thailand downplayed risks from rising infections from the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which is linked to serious birth defects, and expressed concern that disclosing information would damage its tourism industry.

On Friday, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDPC) warned of the increasing spread in Thailand of Zika, which can cause microcephaly in unborn children.

Thailand is combating the risk by misting and spraying mosquito-infested areas, said Anuttarasakdi Ratchatatat, epidemiologist at the health ministry's Bureau of Vector Borne Disease.

It has not changed or updated its Zika prevention plan since Singapore, which has a more extensive prevention campaign, began reporting a spike in cases from late August.

Twenty-two new cases were confirmed on Sunday (Sep 11) in the upmarket Sathorn area of Bangkok, part of the city's Central Business District, including a pregnant woman who later gave birth with no complications.

"It's concerning because I live just around the corner," said Dietrich Neu, a Canadian who works in publishing.

"It's different in Canada; the government would be all over it. There would be a centre where people can get treated and leaflets about what the symptoms are."

The health ministry on Monday urged Thais not to panic as it said the virus was not deadly or contagious - though in fact it can be passed on sexually - and ministry epidemiologist Anuttarasakdi added that it did not want to deter tourists.

"The information on Zika is quite sensitive because if we say which province has infections then attention will turn on that province, and if that province is popular with tourists it will have an impact on tourism," he said.

"We don't want people to be too alarmed."

Health authorities in Thailand are not treating Zika as seriously as dengue, which is much more widespread in the country, said Assistant Professor Watcharee Chokejindachai from the Faculty of Tropical Medicine at Mahidol University in Bangkok, because of a perception that Zika is less dangerous.

"Dengue is perceived as more serious; it can lead to death. That's why they pay more attention to dengue than Zika," Watcharee told Reuters.

"Diagnosing Zika is also more expensive than dengue because it takes time - up to eight hours - whereas with dengue we have a rapid test which takes 15 minutes."

There have been more than 31,000 dengue cases in Thailand this year to Aug. 19, including 25 fatalities, according to the International Society for Infectious Diseases.


Several countries in Southeast Asia have reported a rising number of Zika cases, but Thailand has one of the highest number in the region, with more than 100 confirmed since January.

A total of 30 pregnant Thai women with the virus are being monitored, the health ministry said. Six have given birth with no complications, so far.

A map showing countries with active local transmission of Zika from the ECDPC updated on Friday shows Thailand with "increasing or widespread transmission".

Singapore, where homes have been inspected and communities blanketed with information leaflets, reported its first locally infected Zika patient on Aug. 27, and the number of reported infections has since swelled to more than 300.

People there risk fines if they have even a flower pot with old water in it.

Samlee Pliangbangchang, Regional Director of the World Health Organization's Southeast Asia Region from 2004 to 2014, said Thailand should be more transparent in reporting the Zika threat to the public and should look to Singapore as an example.

"The Ministry of Public Health don't want people to be afraid, so they say they have it under control," Samlee told Reuters.

"The truth is we don't know the extent of the Zika spread in Thailand," he added.

"Singapore has an open policy to inform the public about what is going on so that the public can take precautions. Maybe we should do that, too."

(Additional reporting by Cod Satrusayang and Panarat Thempgumpanat; Editing by Will Waterman)

- Reuters

About 200 Zika cases recorded in Thailand: Ministry
Channel NewsAsia 13 Sep 16;

BANGKOK: Thailand has recorded about 200 cases of Zika since January, the health ministry said on Tuesday (Sep 13), making it a country with one of the highest numbers of confirmed cases in the region.

It was the first time Thailand's health ministry has confirmed the number of Zika cases this year.

The announcement comes a day after health experts called on Thailand to be more transparent in reporting the Zika threat to the public after health officials played down risks from rising infections of the mosquito-borne virus.

Health officials have expressed concern that disclosing information on Zika, which is linked to serious birth defects, would damage Thailand's lucrative tourism industry.

"Since January, we have recorded about 200 cases and over the past three weeks, we have confirmed an average of 20 new cases per week," Ministry of Public Health spokesman Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai told Reuters.

"The number of cases is stable," he said, without giving further details.

Island city-state Singapore reported its first locally infected Zika patient on August 27 and since then, the number of reported infections has soared to more than 300.

Malaysia and the Philippines have also reported cases.

The virus, which is affecting large parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, has been circulating in Asia for years.

The lineage of the virus circulating in Asia is different to the one in the Americas, researchers say. The level of population immunity to the lineage of Zika in Asia remains unknown, according to the World Health Organization.

Suwannachai urged the public not to panic and reiterated a message aimed at reassuring tourists.

"People shouldn't be scared to visit provinces affected by the Zika virus," Suwannachai said.

Zika infections in pregnant women have been shown to cause microcephaly - a severe birth defect in which the head and brain are undersized - as well as other brain abnormalities.

The connection between Zika and microcephaly first came to light last year in Brazil, which has since confirmed more than 1,800 cases of microcephaly.

Thailand has found no cases of microcephaly linked to Zika and it is monitoring about two dozen pregnant woman and about six who have given birth with no complications, the health ministry said.

In adults, Zika infections have also been linked to a rare neurological syndrome known as Guillain-Barre, as well as other neurological disorders.

The virus was first identified in Uganda in 1947.

(Reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Robert Birsel)

- Reuters

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Vietnam: Red tide blamed for Thanh Hoa fish deaths

VietNamNet Bridge 12 Sep 16;

The blooming of algae, resulting in the red tide phenomenon, is the main cause behind mass fish deaths reported last week in central Thanh Hoa Province, the provincial People’s Committee said yesterday, Sept 11.

Earlier last week, locals found about 300kg of dead fish washed ashore near Nghi Son Oil Refinery and Petrochemical complex and coastal area near Bac Yen Hamlet of Hai Yen Commune in Tinh Gia District.

Nearly 50 tonnes of fish bred in cages of fishermen on Nghi Son island commune of the same district also reportedly died.

An investigation by local authorities showed that seawater samples near the port of Nghi Son Oil Refinery and Petrochemical complex and around floating cages of Nghi Son Commune were a reddish brown colour. Tests revealed a type of alga named Hairoi-Creratium furca bloomed, causing the red tide.

The provincial People’s Committee has ordered Tinh Gia Commune authorities to continue to supervise the situation and warn locals to move cages away from the affected water area.

Locals have also been advised to harvest the unaffected fish early to reduce further losses and destroy the dead ones, rather than use them for daily meals or animal feed.

The provincial People’s Committee has proposed that Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc order the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to send scientists and specialists for fact finding and to instruct the affected locality to deal with the incident.

Seawater observation along coastal areas near the Nghi Son Oil Refinery and Petrochemical complex must be added to the national environmental observation programme, the committee suggested.

A similar incident occurred in the province’s Ma River in mid August this year with the reason behind blamed on alluvium, mud and soil brought down by floods.

In May, more than 17 tonnes of fish being bred in cages in the province’s Thach Thanh District died. A large amount of wastewater from cassava starch and sugar plants released in the nearby Hoa Binh Province without proper treatment had caused the mass fish deaths.

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Scientists warn of widespread coral bleaching in south Japan

TAKASHI SUGIMOTO Asahi Shimbun 13 Sep 16;

Coral bleaching is observed off Ishigakijima island in Okinawa Prefecture in August. (From the “coral map” website)

Coral bleaching has spread around islands in Okinawa and Kagoshima prefectures, threatening to inflict the worst damage to the tourist-attracting coral reefs in southern Japan since 1998, researchers said.

Prolonged coral bleaching, a phenomenon in which overly warm seawater and other factors cause corals to turn white, could end up wiping out large parts of the coral reefs, the researchers warn.

“Many corals could be lost,” said Hiroya Yamano, director of the Center for Environmental Biology and Ecosystem Studies at the National Institute for Environmental Studies.

Yamano and other researchers are calling on people around Japan to observe corals and send information about them to the “coral map” website ( The site is operated by an environmental nonprofit group and organizations of divers to determine the extent of the damage and develop countermeasures.

Yamano said he has received more than 20 reports since July on coral bleaching around at least five islands, including Yakushima in Kagoshima Prefecture and Taketomijima and Ishigakijima in Okinawa Prefecture.

Coral bleaching has been reported in a wider area in Japan this year than in 2007 and 2013, when bleaching was observed near only a limited number of islands.

The widest damage to Japanese coral reefs occurred in 1998, when the El Nino phenomenon caused seawater temperatures to rise.

According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, water temperatures around the main island of Okinawa this summer are at the highest level since 2001, exceeding the warning level for coral bleaching.

If the corals die out, marine creatures would be negatively affected and tourism could decline in the surrounding areas.

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Ban on domestic ivory trade passes at international summit

Not legally binding but may stem trade and poaching
Nearly one third of Africa’s savanna elephants killed between 2007 and 2014
Oliver Milman The Guardian 11 Sep 16;

Nations and environmental groups have agreed to shut down the domestic ivory trade, despite the resolution nearly being derailed by objections from countries including Japan and South Africa.

Following three days of political maneuvering, disagreements and walkouts, delegates at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) congress in Hawaii agreed on a text that calls on countries to close the internal trade of ivory “as a matter of urgency”.

The motion holds no legal power but conservationists hope it will spur countries to ban the sale of ivory within their own borders, to help stem the rampant poaching of elephants. The international trade in ivory has been banned since 1989 but in many countries, including the US, UK and China, domestic trade is still allowed for antiques.

“The shutting down of domestic ivory markets will send a clear signal to traffickers and organized criminal syndicates that ivory is worthless and will no longer support their criminal activities causing security problems in local communities and wiping out wildlife,” said Cristian Samper, chief executive of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

“The movement behind Africa’s elephants gives us all hope and will ensure that the elephant will continue to be a vital part of Africa’s magnificent natural heritage.”

The domestic ban was backed by most of the 217 state and national members of IUCN, as well as 1,000 conservation groups that are part of the union. But a band of countries, including Japan, Namibia and South Africa, argued that domestic markets should be better regulated rather than shut down.

It was hoped that consensus would be achieved on Saturday, only for Japan and Namibia to propose a number of amendments that would have watered down the resolution so it would merely call for nations to regulate themselves.

However, representatives from countries including Uganda, Cameroon and Kenya spoke forcefully in favor of a ban. A majority of delegates then voted in favor.

Andrew Wetzler, deputy chief program officer at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said he hoped that a meeting of nations at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) in Johannesburg later this month would reinforce the commitment to close domestic ivory markets.

“Today’s vote by IUCN members is the first time that a major international body has called on every country in the world to close its legal markets for elephant ivory,” he said. “It’s truly a landmark moment, and a victory for elephants.”

The first continent-wide census of Africa’s savanna elephants found that nearly a third were wiped out between 2007 and 2014. Poachers target the animals to supply ivory from their tusks in Asia. Gangs can get $1,100 per kilogram for ivory in China, which announced last year it would shut down its own domestic market.

Even though the international trade in ivory has been banned for more than 25 years, a flourishing black market has led to the slaughter of elephants, as well as the people charged with protecting them.

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