“Rarest of the Rare”


Please read my post on the State of the Wild (WCS 2010). The white-headed langur like the Indo-Chinese tiger and other tiger subspecies has been driven to near extinction in-part because of wildlife trafficking. Traditional Chinese Medicine continues to promote the practice of zootherapy.  Zootherapeutic agents include parts and derivatives of whole carcasses, tissues and byproducts of wildlife. There are approximately 100 white-headed langurs left in the wild. One subspecies occurs in Cat Ba Island, Vietnam and the other in Guangxi, China.  This partially albinistic langur was considered a subspecies of Francois’ langurs as recently as 1995.  One day I may share my experience with captive Francois’ langurs. If I had to pick a favorite Old World monkey, I might just pick Francois’ langurs.

Dr. Jordan Schaul, Zoo Keeper Emeritus


Failed CITES Proposal Highlights Need for New Approach

This week at the CITES Conference of Parties, several proposals, including those to list Atlantic bluefin tuna & polar bears in Appendix I and red & pink coral in Appendix II, were rejected.  Opponents of the proposals intimated the reason behind their lack of support was their concern that increased regulations would negatively impact poor communities.  Whether or not that was the true motivation behind their votes, these statements emphasize the need to find ways to sustain species while also sustaining the communities that depend on them.

A relatively new eco-label, called Wildlife Friendly, does just that.  It certifies “wildlife-friendly” products that conserve threatened wildlife while at the same time contributing to the economic vitality of rural communities.  Take the example of certified “Elephant Pepper.” To stop elephants from raiding their crops, farmers in Kenya plant pepper plants as natural fences around their fields. In addition to keeping elephants out (did you know elephants dislike and thus avoid pepper?), the plants provide a new cash crop for farmers that is then certified and sold for use in salsa and other products.

Another example is Ibis Rice.  Sustainable rice growing in the habitat of the endangered Great Ibis in Cambodia both earns local farmers substantial income while avoiding conversion of the land habitat and ensuring it’s maintained in its natural state.   Perhaps zoos and other wildlife-oriented institutions can help promote these types of products as well as foster public awareness about them and create markets by exploring options to use certified products in their own restaurants?

You can hear more examples of win-win-win situations that support a “triple bottom line” of people, planet and profits, as well as what goes into wildlife friendly certification, on this week’s The WildLife broadcast & podcast with Julie Stein of the Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network (WFEN) which will air on Monday, March 22, 2010 from 1-2 pm on WOMM-LP, 105.9 FM in Burlington, Vermont.  (Live stream on www.theradiator.org.  Podcast available on iTunes and www.laurelneme.com.)

More information:   The WildLife Radio & Podcast:  http://bit.ly/7lTzpZ Certified Wildlife Friendly: http://www.wildlifefriendly.org/ Predator Friendly: http://www.predatorfriendly.org/about/index.html

Dr. Laurel Neme (http://www.laurelneme.com)

Laurel will be a featured lecturer at the St. Louis Zoo this Spring. Check page for dates.

A Tusker Trampled My House

In exploring some issues relevant to the illegal trade in ivory I encountered report after report of tragic confrontations among villagers and elephants on the Indian Subcontinent– reports that rarely get much, if any coverage in the Western world, but are commonplace in local newspapers.

I admit that as little or as much as I know about  basic elephant behavior and biology, my exposure to elephants is quite limited to what I have learned in zoos. With that said, my acumen for husbandry, training and broader in situ conservation issues is based primarily on what I know of Africa’s savanna and forest elephants.  My knowledge of Asian elephants is second- hand and based on anecdotal information from handlers who worked with elephants for years in circuses and from colleagues who have worked with both Asian and African elephants in both protected and “free contact” situations……..  In fact, the most recent time I pondered the notion of working with elephants in captivity or in the  wild was when Harry Peachey, Elephant Manager, Curator, Board member (IEF), and world -renowned elephant expert lightheartedly proposed that we work on a joint project in Borneo. Harry surmised that Borneo was an ideal destination for our “project” because the  sun bears would cover my interests and pygmy elephants are of great interest to him.   It’s not that elephants would be a disappointment to work with, not in the least, but like chimps, I consider elephants to be far smarter than myself and I’m not sure who would be training who.  Anyway, the Borneo pygmy elephant is a subspecies of Asian elephant known for it’s size and passive demeanor and is under heavy extinction pressure.    But I digress, again…..

While the black market ivory trade flourishes and poached animals are tragically killed at alarming rates in Africa, the human-wild Asian elephant interface in India highlights the increasing difficulty to live with elephants who navigate the forest corridors that lead them through intact habitat, circumventing the need to travel through more densely populated human inhabited areas.  However, agricultural development outside preserves continue to place pressure on buffer zones. Roads and railway tracks fragment the habitat of the corridors crucial to elephant movements.

You can’t blame the elephant and you can’t blame local villagers. These people are just trying to make a living. But it’s just another reminder of how easy it is for people who have never encountered a herd of 50 or more agitated tuskers, as Asian bulls are often referred to, and cows trample your home and chase and sometimes injure or kill your family members.  This is not to say that in many situations the animals weren’t provoked, but this is not uncommon if you live closely to wild elephants.   I think that the media coverage of tame, domesticated elephants in Southeast Asia create an image of Asian elephants that we may prefer to believe.

Elephant issues in Africa and Asia are far more complicated than what I describe so briefly in this post, but it’s a poignant reminder that there are two sides to every story.  Although the black market promotes poaching for ivory even within protected preserves and often by the very game wardens and wildlife officials who are paid to protect theses animals, there are also people trying to make an honest living in elephant country.  Clearly the use of land by animal and man often creates tragic consequences for both elephants and people.

To learn more about what zoos are doing for captive elephant welfare and conservation visit the National Elephant Center. You can also read the recent Association of Zoos & Aquarium’s (AZA) Press Release on elephant conservation and this European Association of  Zoo & Aquarium’s (EAZA) Newsletter on Elephants. This latter issue dedicated to elephants is quite informative.

Dr. Jordan Schaul, Zoo Keeper Emeritus