Giant crackdown against wildlife crime in 92 countries

The Free Press WV

Nearly 100 countries took part in a globe-spanning crackdown on the illegal wildlife trade, seizing tons of meat, ivory, pangolin scales and timber in a monthlong bust that exposed the international reach of traffickers, Interpol said Wednesday.

Officials also confiscated thousands of live animals, including turtles in Malaysia and parrots in Mexico. Canada intercepted 18 tons of eel meat arriving from Asia. Those arrested included two flight attendants in Los Angeles and a man in Israel whose house was raided after he posted a hunting photograph on social media.

Operation Thunderstorm, which followed similar stings in past years, yielded seizures worth millions of dollars during May, according to Interpol.

“The results are spectacular,” said Sheldon Jordan, Canada’s director general of wildlife enforcement.

Acknowledging the magnitude of the problem, Jordan said global wildlife crime is worth about $150 billion annually and is fourth in value after the illegal drug trade, counterfeiting and human trafficking.

Criminal syndicates that smuggle flora and fauna often take advantage of porous borders and corrupt officials, transporting illicit cargo at an industrial scale.

The Thunderstorm swoop included the confiscation of 8 tons of pangolin scales, half of which was found by Vietnamese authorities on a ship from Africa.

Africa’s four species of pangolins are under increasing pressure from poachers because of the decimation of the four species in Asia, where pangolin scales are used in traditional medicine.

A total of 43 tons of contraband meat — including bear, elephant, crocodile, whale and zebra — 1.3 tons of elephant ivory, 27,000 reptiles, about 4,000 birds, 48 live primates, 14 big cats and two polar bear carcasses were also seized. Several tons of wood and timber were also seized.

China, the world’s largest ivory consumer, banned its domestic trade starting this year in what conservationists hope will relieve pressure on Africa’s besieged elephant populations. While some herds are recovering, a high rate of killing continues in many areas, such as Mozambique’s Niassa reserve.

Some 1,400 suspects were identified worldwide in the Thunderstorm sting, which included police, customs and other agencies from 92 countries, Interpol said. Two flight attendants were arrested in Los Angeles carrying live spotted turtles to Asia in personal baggage, said Interpol. Both suspects have been charged with smuggling protected species.

Participating nations were from Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North and South America. The Pacific nation of Vanuatu, which is not an Interpol member, took part.

Officers searched cars, trucks, boats and containers, sometimes using sniffer dogs and X-ray scanners.

The operation, Interpol Secretary General Juergen Stock said, showed that wildlife traffickers use the same routes as other criminals, “often hand-in-hand with tax evasion, corruption, money laundering and violent crime.”

DNR Warns: Leave young wildlife alone

The Free Press WV

Spring provides many opportunities to see fawns, cubs and other young animals, but the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) would like to remind people that young wildlife should be left alone.

“You should exercise extreme caution and keep a safe distance if you encounter young wildlife,” said Tyler Evans, a wildlife biologist stationed at the West Virginia State Wildlife Center in Upshur County. “And it is especially important that the public understands the need to avoid touching or disturbing these animals.”

Picking up wildlife or getting too close greatly increases the chance of the animal getting harmed. By handling these animals, humans leave behind a scent that may attract a predator. Additionally, handling wildlife has the potential to expose humans to a variety of wildlife-related diseases and parasites.

“Rabies, ticks, and lice are just a few of the threats humans are exposed to when they handle wildlife,” said Evans.

Removing a young animal from its natural environment will almost certainly lead to the death of that animal.

“Young animals have special dietary needs and must learn survival skills that only a natural setting can provide,” said Evans. “Young animals are hidden while adults search for food, and this separation can last for several hours. Many people will mistake a bedded fawn, with no mother in sight, as abandoned, but that is rarely the case.”

As a final caution, DNR is reminding the public that state law prohibits the possession of wildlife without a permit. The fine for illegal possession of a fawn, bear cub, baby raccoon or any other species during the closed season ranges from $20 to $1,000 and could lead up to 100 days in jail.

“We want everyone to enjoy our state’s wildlife,“ said Evans. “However, for your safety and the safety of the animal, please remember that young wildlife should always be left undisturbed and given the opportunity to remain wild.”

2018 Farm Bill: A Win for West Virginia

The Free Press WV

As Washington D.C. continues to tackle the task of passing a comprehensive 2018 Farm Bill, West Virginia farmers anxiously wait in anticipation while important programs hang in the balance. At first glance, one may think these programs minorly affect the Mountain State, but that cannot be further from the truth. Previous farm bills have netted West Virginia $17 million for conservation efforts, $1.9 million for Specialty Crop Block grants and 351,391 West Virginians rely on monthly assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In addition, $120 billion for invasive species control and $200 billion for management of preventative disease outbreak for the U.S. may be discontinued without a new bill. Clearly, if Washington cannot move beyond their differences, not only will West Virginia farmers lose but so will those who consume the food they produce.

The USDA defines the Specialty Crop Block Grants program as designed to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops within the United States. Specialty crops can be anything from maple syrup to lavender depending on the state. Essentially specialty means crops that are not widely grown. This matters in the Mountain State because we do not have the landscape to grow cheap, in-expensive, high yield crops. Instead, our state has shifted its focus toward high-end, specialty crops which yield a higher per pound gross profit. Therefore, our farmers maximize the limited real estate in West Virginia. Why this program matters because many farmers lack the capital needed to start up these types of operations. Without these grants, several successful agribusinesses would not exist today as used to cover large expenses that are barriers to the business or to test a product.

As West Virginia continues to lead the way with our Veterans to Warriors to Agriculture program, the United States Department of Agriculture has taken note. Within the 2018 Farm Bill, language exists that lays out veteran farmers as a priority. From our program, we have proven that agri-therapy can help our service men and women heal from the unseen wounds of war. At the same time, veterans can be a solution to a growing age gap and lack of new farmers in our country. As the USDA makes federal resources available for these types of programs, a state that has one of the highest per capita veteran populations will surely benefit from this new vision.

From the rolling hills to the vast forests, West Virginia is one of the most beautiful states in the nation. Although, invasive pests like the emerald ash borer insect or the multiflora rose bush have created problems for our farmers, state parks and forests. For example, federal resources are being matched with state funds to combat Japanese barberry in Cacapon State Park. Without these federal resources we have no way to slow these pests down and more pesticides will be necessary to combat the challenges that will ensue. If future generations are to enjoy West Virginia’s natural beauty it will, invasive pests programs will be a part of that equation.

Sustainable agriculture is a popular buzz word these days, but not easily defined. In general, it means using our resources without exhausting them. In a state with an abundant access to fresh water, conservation and the efforts of the Natural Resources Conservation Service is vital to our state. From addressing food deserts schools to assisting our farmers with the implementation of conservation practices, the Farm Bill provides much needed resources and technical assistance. This is only possible through shared resource programs which are authorized through the bill. Without these programs, many of our schools would have not started farm-to-school programs and West Virginia would not be leading the effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay watershed through an entirely voluntary approach.

We may only play a small role in our nation’s agricultural might, but our 20,600 small, family farmers play a vital role in our state’s economy and local communities. From the poultry industry in the Eastern Panhandle to the local farm stand providing their neighbors with fresh produce, our farmers grow $800 million worth of food annually. These farmers rely heavily on the assistance authorized within the Farm Bill. If Congress fails to pass a new version, the consequences will affect consumers and farmers alike. What hangs in the balance is a safe, reliable food system. With a safe, reliable food system, you have many problems. Without one, you have one problem. Congress must act and they must do it soon.

Kent A. Leonhardt
West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture

Mammals Are Going Nocturnal to Avoid Us

The Free Press WV

The list of ways humans have altered the planet continues to grow: Animals are becoming more nocturnal, possibly as a means of avoiding the superpredators we’ve become, per a new study. The meta-anaylsis of 76 studies on 62 mammal species across six continents, published in the journal Science, found mammals were less active during daytime hours and more active at night when humans were nearby, regardless of whether the humans were threatening or not, reports the Guardian. Study author Kaitlyn Gaynor of the University of California, Berkeley, draws a comparison between humans and dinosaurs, pointing out it was only after the dinosaurs’ extinction that mammals emerged from the dark. “Humans are now this ubiquitous terrifying force on the planet and we are driving all the other mammals back into the night-time,“ she says.

Evidence suggests this is the case with California’s coyotes, brown bears in Alaska, leopards in Gabon, tigers in Nepal, and boars in Poland, per Scientific American and Outside. On average, mammals were 1.36 times more nocturnal in response to human activity, meaning an animal who historically split its active time between night and day now spends 68% of its active time at night. “That’s pretty striking,“ says Gaynor. Outside points out it’s not all downside: This could mean fewer attacks on humans and less transfer of disease. But the change could also transform entire ecosystems, with Gaynor giving the example of coyotes in California shifting from eating squirrels and birds to animals more active at night, like mice and rabbits.

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