L.A. Unleashed

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Category: Elephants

Leaders in conservation named finalists for $100,000 award to help animals

Snowleopard INDIANAPOLIS — Two leaders in saving big cats in the wild and two champions of sea creatures are among the six finalists for the $100,000 Indianapolis Prize for animal conservation.

The finalists named Tuesday include Snow Leopard Conservancy founder Rodney Jackson, Cheetah Conservation Fund founder and executive director Laurie Marker, Blue Ocean Institute founder Carl Safina, and University of British Columbia seahorse expert Amanda Vincent.

The other two finalists from among 29 nominees are Mexican conservation strategist Gerardo Ceballos and Iain Douglas-Hamilton, the president and chief executive of Save the Elephants.

The winner is expected to be announced in June.

The biennial prize claims to be the world's richest individual award for animal conservation. The 2008 prize went to endangered species expert George Schaller.

-- Associated Press

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Photo: A snow leopard cub is introduced to the public at the L.A. Zoo on Sept. 10, 2009. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

African countries' proposal to allow one-time sale of elephant ivory rejected at CITES conference

Tusks DOHA, Qatar — Conservationists scored a rare victory at a U.N. wildlife meeting Monday when governments voted to reject contentious proposals by Tanzania and Zambia to weaken the 21-year-old ban on ivory sales over concerns it would further contribute to poaching.

The heated debate over the proposed sale of the two countries' ivory stocks divided Africa, as it has in years past, at the 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Nearly two dozen central and east African countries came out against the proposals on the grounds that they would hurt already declining African elephant populations. Southern African countries, in contrast, argued the two nations should be rewarded for the conservation efforts undertaken and should have to right to manage their herds as they see fit.

"People born in 100 years, they should be able to see an elephant," said Kenya's Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife Noah Wekesa, whose country opposed the sales and had called at one point for a 20-year moratorium on such auctions.

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Programs to protect elephants may help keep China's small population from dying out

China elephants

Their tendency to eat farmers' crops, destroy property and, even, occasionally attack, has not endeared China's tiny (and dwindling) population of Asian elephants to their human neighbors in the country's southwest. Far from it, in fact.

Despite the fact that most Chinese who've come in contact with wild elephants would prefer they hadn't, a coordinated effort by animal activists, environmentalists and the Chinese government is helping the people learn to respect the elephants.

Approximately 300 wild elephants remain in China. Their fans in the country hope a combination of stiff penalties for poaching; monetary compensation to farmers in order to grow crops elephants won't like; and public education about what really happens when ivory is harvested for consumer products will help turn the tide in the pachyderms' favor.

No cases of elephant poaching have been reported since four people were executed for the crime in 1995. A program organized by the International Federation for Animal Welfare pays farmers up to $150 to grow tea, which elephants turn up their trunks at, rather than corn, which they gobble up with vigor. (A similar program aimed at dealing with rampaging elephants in southern Africa helps farmers to grow a thick barrier of chile peppers around their more delicious crops to keep them out.)

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African countries' proposal to allow one-time sale of elephant ivory stirs controversy


TSAVO EAST NATIONAL PARK, Kenya — Tracking the wounded elephant to its deathbed was easy for the ranger. Hit by a poison arrow, the huge mammal could only drag its hind leg, creating a wide gash across the bush.

Poachers' footprints were all around the kill, but the hunters did not have time to remove the valuable ivory tusks before Mohamed Kamanya's team of armed rangers arrived. Instead, the emotional task fell to the rangers, who cut off the tusks so they could not be sold.

Beginning this weekend, the international community will debate proposals from Tanzania and Zambia to allow a one-time sale of ivory to clear out stockpiles. Kenyan officials are warning that if sales are approved in neighboring countries, elephant poaching will soar.

"We totally believe that any experiments to allow partial lifting of [the] international ban in ivory trade stimulates elephant poaching and leads to ivory laundering," the Kenyan Wildlife Service's Patrick Omandi said. "Indeed there has been an increase in poaching across the entire continent, with some countries losing their entire population."

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Florida zoo mourns death of third-oldest Asian elephant on record

Mary, right, and Maude are digging into an elephant birthday cake at the annual birthday celebration.

One of the oldest Asian elephants on record has died.

Mary, a 63-year-old elephant, died this week at the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens in Orlando, zoo officials said.

Shonna Green, spokeswoman for the zoo, said Mary died late Tuesday of an age-related illness.

“She was 63 -- which is rather old for an elephant -- but no one dies of old age, so there has to be some kind of complication,” Green said.

A necropsy will be conducted to determine the exact cause of death.

Mary was born in 1946 at the Nehru Zoological Park in India. She came to the U.S. in 1952 as part of a circus. After she was retired from the circus, she was sent to the Dallas Zoo before coming to the Central Florida Zoo in 1983, where she was the matriarch of the group of elephants, despite being smaller than the others. 

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Wildlife officer suspected of stealing $65,000 of smuggled elephant tusks


A Philippine wildlife officer is suspected of stealing more than 1,500 pounds (700 kilograms) of smuggled elephant tusks seized last year, an embarrassing setback for the country's anti-poaching efforts, an official said Wednesday.

The ivory worth $65,000 was part of a 8,800-pound (4,000-kilogram) shipment of tusks that was impounded at Manila airport in July and turned over for disposal to the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau, said Theresa Mundita Lim, the agency's director. Trade in ivory is banned under U.N. rules.

She said the theft of nearly a fifth of the stored tusks was discovered while inventory was being taken on a warehouse Friday. Seals on some of the boxes were broken and some of the original tusks were replaced by replicas made of PVC pipes covered with plaster, she said.

Wildlife authorities filed administrative charges against a park supervisor, who may also face a criminal case depending on the probe by the National Bureau of Investigation, Lim said. The suspect, who was not identified, has not returned to work since Friday, she said.

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SeaWorld orca attack raises questions about keeping large animals in captivity

Elephant Orca

ORLANDO, Fla. — Rocky, a 700-pound grizzly considered one of the gentlest animals among Hollywood's performing beasts, bites down on the neck of a veteran trainer. Illusionist Roy Horn is severely mauled by a show tiger during a Las Vegas performance. An elephant at an Indonesian tourist resort tramples its longtime handler to death.

And now the latest -- a 40-year-old trainer at SeaWorld Orlando is drowned by a massive 12,000-pound killer whale named Tilikum, an incident that raises anew the question of whether some beasts, especially the biggest ones, have any business being tamed to entertain.

Descriptions of Tilikum, the 22-foot orca that has now killed two trainers, inevitably come around to his intimidating size.

At nearly six tons, the bull bought for breeding is a giant among killer whales, the largest in captivity.

"Humans trying to incarcerate orcas or elephants or any type of large-brain or large-society species, it's proven it doesn't work," said Mark Berman, associate director at the environmental group Earth Island Institute in Berkeley. "They're just too big."

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More than 200 African elephant tusks seized from shipment in Thailand


BANGKOK — Thailand has seized two tons of elephant tusks from Africa hidden in pallets labeled as mobile phone parts in the country's largest ivory seizure.

Thai customs officials valued Wednesday night's haul at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport at 120 million baht ($3.6 million). It is a further sign that Thailand is emerging as a hub for the illicit trade.

Poaching of elephants in central and eastern Africa has intensified in recent years, with much of the illegal ivory exported to Asia.

Seree Thaijongrak, director of the investigation and suppression bureau for the Customs Department, said that acting on a tip, officials seized two pallets containing 239 tusks of African elephants.

The consignment, which originated in South Africa, was labeled as mobile phone parts destined for Laos -- apparently to confuse customs officials because Laos has an agreement with neighboring Thailand not to check cargo in transit. 

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Paris prepares for major zoo renovation, to be finished in 2014 (no elephants included)

Paris zoo

PARIS — For a zoo, it's a quiet and lonely place. Among the few remaining residents of Paris' main animal park are the giraffes -- whose long necks make travel inconvenient -- and a hippo who was permitted to stay put after she threw a temper tantrum in a shipping crate.

Closed since 2008, and its animals mostly shipped abroad, the aging zoo in Paris' Vincennes woods has been awaiting a badly needed renovation. On Wednesday, officials finally announced a $181-million overhaul through a public-private partnership, which they hope will create a zoo befitting one of the world's most beautiful cities.

The animal park, officially called the Zoological Park of Paris, will reopen in 2014. In the meantime, "the giraffes will oversee the construction site," said Bertrand-Pierre Galey, who runs France's National Museum of Natural History, which encompasses the zoo.

The zoo has not had major work done since it opened in 1934, and its crumbling displays -- including faux cliffs and rocks made out of concrete -- eventually became a safety hazard.

"The rocks were deteriorating, and it was getting dangerous for the personnel, the public and the animals," Genevieve Beraud-Bridenne, director of the museum's department of botanic gardens and zoos, told the Associated Press.

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Meeting elephants for peanuts: One travel writer's (inexpensive) experiences in Thailand

Thailand's 1989 ban on commercial logging sent thousands of elephants to training camps that sprang up around the country -- some ethical, some not so ethical. Travel writer Christopher Smith recently visited and profiled the Elephant Conservation Center camp in Lampang Province. (He describes the trip as "the best $2.55 I've ever spent on vacation.") Here's an excerpt:

Elephant painter For less than the cost of a Double Whopper, I spent a day in the company of 55 whoppers -- domesticated Asian elephants being rehabbed after lives of labor. No chains, no enclosures, often no distance at all from behemoths within touching range.

For an animal lover like me, it was a pachyderm paradise for the price of peanuts.

As for the elephants, it was probably just another routine day at the 300-acre Elephant Conservation Center in northern Thailand. As part of their schedule, the elephants performed in 45-minute shows that displayed their former tasks, such as hauling logs, and newfound skills, which include painting abstract art that has sold for thousands of dollars at fundraising auctions. After showtimes, the elephants sauntered down a dirt road for a dip in a lagoon.

Beyond the organized activities, there was plenty to see at the center, which is 45 miles southeast of Chiang Mai, the largest city in northern Thailand. The conservation center draws more than 10,000 Thai children annually and a steady stream of elephant-centric tourists.

At an outdoor nursery, three moms were keeping an eye on their calves, ranging from 5 months to 1 year old. Nearby was a veterinary hospital where visitors could see animals being treated.


Photo: One of the Elephant Conservation Center elephants taps into his inner Rembrandt. Credit: Sherry Stern / Los Angeles Times


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