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2013 in review: the year wildlife crime became an international security issue

 
Elephant Poaching in Africa

Former NBA star and Chinese icon Yao Ming inspects the corpse of a poached elephant in Namunyak, northern Kenya. Photograph: Kristian Schmidt/WildAid

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “2013 in review: the year wildlife crime became an international security issue” was written by Jessica Aldred, for theguardian.com on Monday 16th December 2013 13.10 UTC

Arguably the biggest story of 2013 was wildlife crime, which escalated from a conservation issue to an international security threat. Driven by rising demand for ivory from east Asia, it has doubled over the past five years into a global trade worth $10bn, threatening political and economic stability in central Africa.

This month there were warnings that Africa could lose one-fifth of its elephants in the next decade if the continent’s poaching crisis is not stopped. By the end of September, a record 704 rhinos had been killed by poachers in South Africa and 47 in Kenya this year. Figures showed two-thirds of forest elephants had been killed by ivory poachers in past decade.

Some high-profile massacres hit the headlines, with 86 elephants – including 33 pregnant females– killed in less than a week in Chad, 26 elephants slaughtered at a wildlife-viewing site in the Central African Republic and 80 poisoned at a water hole in Zimbabwe.

While conservation groups looked to technology such as surveillance drones and GPS trackers to aid their efforts, park rangers lost lives and faced corruption fighting a one-sided war against increasingly militarised and organised gangs of poachers sometimes linked to terrorist groups like Al-Shabaab.

With Prince Charles and his son the Duke of Cambridge calling for a “war on poachers”, UK prime minister David Cameron announced he would host the highest level global summit to date on combating the illegal wildlife trade. In the US, the Obama administration said it would destroy all 6m tonnes of its ivory stocks and the Philippines crushed 5m tonnes of seized ivory beneath industrial rollers.

Hedgehog

Hedgehogs struggled to emerge from hibernation. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

In 2013 the weather played a big part for British wildlife, with a wet winter, a “delayed spring” and hot summer affecting both flora and fauna. As cold spell continued into April, conservationists warned hedgehogs, birds, insects, reptiles and frogs were all struggling.

In May, the National Trust embarked on a census to discover whether puffin numbers had plummeted after a year of extreme weather, and the UK barn owl population was reported to have suffered its worst breeding season for more than 30 years after a run of extreme weather events. The erratic weather had a knock-on effect later in the year with species like wasps and butterflies being seen a month later than usual.

Bees with Common Blue Butterflies

Of the 17 species of butterflies found in Europe, eight have declined, including the common blue. Photograph: Alan Mather/Alamy

Decline was a word used frequently throughout 2013 when it came to talking about wildlife in the UK and around the world. The significant State of Nature report, published in May, found that more than half of UK wildlife species are in decline. In October an audit of more than 200 native UK species – including birds, bats, moths, butterflies, hares and doormice – showed that priority species have declined on average by 58% since 1970.

 

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