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A Talk on the Wild Side.

The Biggest Marine Protected Area in the World

uhu uliuli, or spectacled parrotfishUhu uliuli, or spectacled parrotfish. Photo by Lindsay Kramer/USFWS

For many years, we have worked to protect and promote the natural and cultural history of the National Wildlife Refuges that form the backbone of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National MonumentMidway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial and Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge.  On Friday, President Obama announced the expansion of the monument to become the world’s largest protected area. More than 582,000 square miles of coral reefs, seamounts and undersea ridges will now be safeguarded, an area greater than the size of Texas, California and Montana combined. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now responsible for administering or co-administering nearly 1 billion acres of lands and waters for wildlife, more than any other entity on the planet.

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The Fight Against Wildlife Trafficking

 rhinoRhino populations have been decimated by poaching. Photo by Cyndi Perry

Wildlife trafficking—the illegal taking and trade in protected species and their parts—continues to grow, with expected and sometimes unexpected consequences.

It threatens the future of many species of wildlife, from some of the most treasured, such as elephants and tigers, to mostly unknown species such as pangolins, the most heavily trafficked mammal in the world, and cone-producing cycad plants, often called “living fossils” because of how long they have been around.

Once a small-scale crime of opportunity, wildlife trafficking has now been taken over by criminal syndicates with plenty of guns and a deadly, organized structure, threatening the security and stability of places such as Central Africa.

The United States plays a key role in wildlife trafficking, as both consumer and transit country and a source of organized criminal networks. Species such as ginseng are also poached right here in the United States.

But it is also in the vanguard of efforts to end wildlife trafficking. The Service takes a leadership role combating wildlife trafficking both here and abroad. Read on to find out how.

From the Summer 2016 issue of Fish & Wildlife News.

Matt Trott, External Affairs

Using Social Media to Pilot an Anti-Wildlife Trafficking Campaign in Peru

 Campaign image“They kill the moms, so they can sell their young.” WCS image

Peru is a country on the rise. In addition to a growing economy and increased influence in South America, in recent years Peru has become better known as a culinary powerhouse and a tourist destination. Featuring a variety of fascinating cities, cultures, delicious foods and such well-known archaeological sites as Machu Picchu, Peru has much to recommend itself. It is also a biodiversity hotspot, with coastal, mountain and Amazon Rainforest ecosystems that are home to a vast diversity and number of plant and animal species. But many are under threat.


MENTOR Grad Fights for Wildlife

Vincent Opyene is a Ugandan lawyer who started his career as a state prosecutor with the Director of Public Prosecution in 1999 and as an attorney and specialized wildlife crime prosecutor with the Uganda Wildlife Authority in 2006. In 2008 and 2009, he formed part of the Service’s first MENTOR (Mentoring for ENvironmental Training in Outreach and Resource conservation) Program, focused on bushmeat in East Africa.


Lessons of the Feather Trade can Help Service Combat Wildlife Trafficking

  egretsDemand for their showy plumes drove some egrets to the brink of extinction. Photo by Mike Carlo/USFWS

For Asia’s fashionable rising middle class, few things project wealth and status like “white gold”—elephant ivory. Those who buy ivory, considered a symbol of status and good luck, are often unaware that ivory comes from elephants. If they do know, many don’t realize an elephant must be killed before its tusks can be extracted and carved into chess pieces, bracelets and sculptures. They may have been told that elephants shed ivory naturally and it’s scavenged from the ground, causing no harm to the elephants themselves.


EAGLE Spreads Its Wings with Bravery and Commitment across Africa

 PangolinFour men, including a police officer (second from left) were arrested with two live pangolins. Photo by Natural Resource Conservation Network 

Large-scale poaching and trafficking of wildlife and wildlife products is threatening the very existence of elephants, rhinos, great apes, pangolins and other imperiled species across large parts of Africa. Everywhere these animals occur, laws and treaties are in place to protect them. In reality, however, enforcement is often weak and provides few deterrents to those engaged in wildlife crimes.


Wildlife Traffickers are Finding that U.S. Laws Have Bite

For the Service, law enforcement is another means of conservation, with special agents, wildlife inspectors and forensic scientists working to combat wildlife trafficking internationally and domestically.

“Stopping wildlife trafficking continues to be a huge conservation priority,” says Service Deputy Chief of the Office of Law Enforcement Edward Grace. “It takes all of us to protect endangered species, here and around the world. Service wildlife inspectors, special agents and the support staff work tirelessly to stop criminals who financially thrive at the expense of the world’s natural resources.”

Service special agent attachés are stationed in U.S. embassies around the world in countries that are both abundant in wildlife and in wildlife crime. They build capacity in their host country by coordinating investigations, providing training, and sharing resources needed to result in successful arrests and prosecutions.


Operation Crash Nabs Traffickers, Brings Money to Rhino Conservation Projects

  rhinoPhoto by Eugene Wei / Creative Commons License

Stopping illegal wildlife trade is a priority for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, so in 2011, our Office of Law Enforcement initiated “Operation Crash,” an ongoing effort to detect, deter and prosecute those engaged in the illegal killing of rhinoceros and the unlawful trafficking of rhino horns.  If you are wondering why the operation has its name, “crash” is the term used to describe a group of rhinoceroses. Five years later, we are pleased to say that Operation Crash has been an enormous success, bringing numerous traffickers to justice and protecting rhinos in the process.

The significant impact of the operation has gained the people on the project accolades, and they have even been nominated this year for a Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal, nicknamed a “Sammie.” The Sammies are the most prestigious awards for government employees, the “Oscars” of government service. Polls are now open to vote for the nominees.

Assets accumulated through illegal activities by convicted rhino horn smugglers in the United States are seized by agents when possible. In a 2012 case of a major rhino horn smuggler in California, the judge directed that the confiscated assets be used to help save rhinos in the wild through our Rhino Tiger Conservation Fund (RTCF). Established in 1994, the RTCF provides approximately $700,000-800,000 per year for on-the-ground conservation of African rhinos. The seizure in the California case yielded gold and jewelry worth more than $684,000, which were immediately sent to projects in Africa to save surviving rhinos.

The three projects that were supported with Operation Crash funds

  • Using modern technology to protect Africa's and Asia’s rhinos: security and monitoring workshop

This grant convened technology developers and field practitioners – for the first time – to identify available tech tools that could be adapted or customized for rhino conservation activities in order to ensure that all African range states and rhino custodians have access to the best technology available to protect wild rhinos. For this project, we worked with Nambia’s Ministry of Environment and Technology and Save the Rhino International.

  • Reintroduction of Black Rhinos to Sera Wildlife Conservancy, Kenya

This grant assisted with the costs of establishing the first eastern black rhino reintroduction site on community-owned land in Kenya. The site has been fenced to include a closed rhino sanctuary of nearly 100 miles squared and received its first delivery of rhinos from other areas in Kenya in 2015.  Fauna and Flora International worked on this project.

In March, the Sera Community Rhino Sanctuary celebrated its first black rhino birth. According to a press release distributed by the Northern Rangelands Trust, “This is the first black rhino to be born on community land in northern Kenya for over 25 years, and demonstrates the strength of the growing community conservation movement. The calf also represents the community’s hopes that the Sanctuary can nurture a viable breeding population of black rhino; that could eventually help repopulate other community conservation areas.”

  • Black rhino population monitoring and protection management operations in North Luangwa National Park, Zambia.

This grant fortified protection of the North Luangwa ecosystem for the protection of Zambia's only black rhino population. The Frankfurt Zoological Society also worked on this project.

We cannot bring the rhinos whose horns are being traded illegally back to life, but thanks to the USFWS special agents who worked on the Operation Crash team, wildlife traffickers have been apprehended and sentenced to prison.  Although countless rhinos have been slaughtered for the illegal horn trade, the efforts by the Crash agents to redirect illegal proceeds to conservation projects in Africa will hopefully support the survival of those remaining rhinos in the wild.

Vote in the Sammies.


What’s So Funny?

  five green heronsSky watch: Five young green herons scan the sky avidly for signs of their next meal at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama. Photo by Roy W. Lowe

Animals don’t try to be funny. So why do some wildlife photos make us chuckle or laugh out loud?

Is it because we see ourselves – or imagine we do – in some animals’ body language or facial expressions? Or because we empathize when animals find themselves in what looks to be a jam? Or, sometimes, do our wildlife cousins just happen to show up next to a sign or a structure that adds delicious irony to their presence?

Whatever the reason, spending time at national wildlife refuges increases your odds of seeing wildlife antics and capturing some of them in photos to share with friends. 

“Try Not to Laugh” — this week’s theme in the National Wildlife Refuge System’s new series of online stories — looks at some of our favorite comical shots of wildlife on and off national wildlife refuges. Got some funny shots of your own? Share them with us for the next round. (We tell you how.) 

Here’s a preview:

  bearWhich-way bear: Hmmm. Right or left? Black bear at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina. Photo by Jackie Orsulak/USFWS

 bad hair dayBad hair day: A great blue heron chick tries out a punk look at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah. In migration season, millions of birds stop to rest and feed in refuge wetlands in the Great Salt Lake ecosystem. Some stick around to nest. Photo by Brian Ferguson/USFWS 

Read the full story: “Try Not to Laugh.”

We hope you’ll also check out our homepage, and share your thoughts, photos and videos with us on FacebookTwitter, Flickr and YouTube. Like what you see? Please share what you find with your friends and family. Thanks! And see you on a refuge!

Compiled by Susan Morse


Birds of a Feather Create Treaties Together

  snowy egretsSnowy Egrets at J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by USFWS

August 16 marked the 100th anniversary of a treaty signed between the United States and Canada, a treaty that has led to a century’s worth of conservation efforts aimed at protecting some of Earth’s most precious animals: migratory birds. The Migratory Bird Treaty signed by these two nations (actually, Great Britain signed for Canada) in 1916 was the first of its kind and has proved to be a worthwhile investment. 

A century ago, birds were in trouble. Feathered hats were all the rage and wild birds were popular menu items in restaurants. Overharvest, combined with habitat loss, devastated populations. The demise of the passenger pigeon stands as an enduring example of the result. Luckily, the United States and Canada recognized the resounding need to protect these precious species and shared natural resources before other birds met the same fate. The result: an agreement to cooperatively manage and protect birds that migrate internationally. 

The treaty was not only the first of its kind to protect migratory birds, but actually among the first to protect ANY wildlife! And it has yielded real results, especially for waterfowl and wading birds. Nevertheless, the recent release of the report on The State of North America’s Birds highlights the many challenges that still lie ahead such as human population growth and climate change. For this reason, taking the time to celebrate this landmark treaty is particularly necessary. 

And a 100 years’ worth of commitment to this international partnership is truly cause for celebration. It allows us the chance to reflect on what our lives would be like if we were to lose these beautiful creatures. Imagine a world without ducks, hawks, songbirds. 

Plus migratory birds are important! They provide essential ecological and economic benefits to communities and the economy, whether it be by controlling pest populations (saving billions of dollars on the need to use toxic pesticides) or generating billions of dollars from plain old bird watching. Plus, their abundance, variety and accessibility combined with their beautiful songs and stunning colors, provide a means to connect people with nature. But, selfish though it may be, in the end, the presence of migratory birds in our skies can also be valuable indicators of environmental health which is crucial to our own wellbeing. So celebrate this treaty, if not for migratory birds, for yourself!

The fight for the future of these birds continues alongside partners that include Mexico, Japan and Russia. You can be a partner, too. This month, the United States and Canada are highlighting many ways that citizens can participate in conservation of our shared bird life. You can visit https://www.fws.gov/birds/index.php to learn more. Here’s to another 100!

 By Alexander Nicolas, External Affairs

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