Rhinos around the world are so threatened that there are few safe havens for them anymore (see photo below for statistics), and their future survival as a species is in serious jeopardy.
The rhino’s increasingly endangered status is almost exclusively due to poaching, which reached record levels in 2011. Rhino horns are valued at up to $45,000 per pound on the black market, exceeding gold and even cocaine and heroin. The horns have been in increasing demand from the Asian medicine market for their healing and aphrodisiac properties.
These demands are not backed by scientific study but rather, misguided reports of the horns’ ability to cure cancer and other ailments. The rumors and frenzy have led to the slaughter of 443 rhinos this past year, up from 13 in 2007. Some species are even becoming extinct. In 2009, the world’s last Vietnamese rhinoceros, a subspecies of the Javan rhino, was shot and killed.
Up until recently it was believed that rhino poaching was a regional concern, largely confined to Asia and Africa. However, increasing break-ins at museums and zoos across the world are finally giving this rampant issue some overdue attention. The problem is so severe that the National Wildlife Crime Unit is warning zoos and safari parks in the UK that poachers could and likely are targeting their Rhinos.
In order to raise awareness for the threatened rhinos, musicians and poets in Kenya, New Zealand and South Africa will be volunteering their time this weekend, February 11th, for the first annual International Rhino Music Day. The musicians are performing to highlight the abuses and injustice being done towards rhinos throughout the world. All proceeds from the day will go to Save Our Rhino K9 Investigations Anti-Poaching Unit.
The event will hopefully generate a lot of publicity and funds to keeping rhinos around the world safe, but this may pale in comparison to what they are up against. This Saturday, be thinking of the Rhinos across the world that need our help. They won’t make it without you. -Raffi Simel
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“What we’re seeing now, it’s unbelievable,” said Denver Holt, head of the Owl Research Institute in Montana.
He’s referring to the mass southern migration of snowy owls from their home in the Arctic tundra to many parts of the lower 48 states, including recent spottings in Texas and Hawaii. This winter has been very unusual for the majestic birds: rarely, if ever, have they been seen so far south. Bird-watching enthusiasts from all over the country are taking advantage of the irregular migration, which is a phenomenon called an “irruption”– an invasion of birds in unusual places or in high numbers.
The irruption is thought to be caused by an abundance of the owls’ main food source of small animals last summer, called lemmings. The summer’s plentiful food allowed the owls to raise more young, which has led to increased competition over lemmings this winter. In order to seek out food, many of the rare owls are flying further south and heading to more unusual destinations.
Perhaps the most famous fictional snowy owl is Hedwig, from the Harry Potter series, which Harry keeps as a messenger. The owls have a large following amongst fans of the J.K. Rowling books. But the young wizard probably doesn’t realize that the birds are federally protected in the United States and possessing them without a special permit is illegal. We’ll let Harry slide this time.
The snowy owl has a very calm temperament and will sit for long stretches without being easily startled. Jerry Jourdan, a birding enthusiast from Michigan, said of seeing his first (and possibly only) snowy owl, “It’s an absolute thrill, and they’re much larger than you expect. Most people go a lifetime without seeing one.” If there was ever a time to see such a magnificent bird, this winter may be your best chance for a while. Keep your eyes peeled… even in Texas. –Raffi Simel
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The United States recently announced a ban on importing Burmese Pythons and transporting the snakes across state lines. U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made the announcement at a flood control pumping station near the Florida Everglades with Florida Senator Ben Nelson and Florida Wildlife Commission officials as they held aloft a recently captured 13-foot python. The ban also affects the yellow anaconda and northern and southern African pythons.
The Burmese python is the most prevalent “invasive species” in subtropical Florida. Native to southeast Asia and considered one of the six largest snakes in the world, Burmese pythons are one of many invasive species that start out as seemingly harmless pets. At a young age, pythons can measure less than a foot in length. But within a matter of years, they typically grow to be 12 feet long, and in some cases closer to 20 feet. The enormity of the snakes, and the effort involved in caring for one, has led many pet-owners to let their pythons loose in the wild.
The increasing disposition of the pythons to the Everglades has led to an overabundance of pythons that the fragile ecosystem simply cannot handle. Producing an average of 12 to 36 eggs per female each year in March and April, needless to say the species is thriving. According to the US Natural Park Service, over 1330 Burmese Pythons had been captured by the end of 2009, and the numbers seem to be getting worse each year. Their diet often consists of endangered birds and mammals, but pythons are known to have attacked and eaten alligators, as well as swallowing entire deer.
A February 2008 report published by US Geological Survey scientists concluded that, by the end of the 21st century (based on global warming predictions and climate modeling for the snakes’ natural habitat), Burmese Pythons could migrate and flourish in one-third of the continental United States. Although a more recent study using different ecological modeling has attempted to contradict this claim, the Pythons’ growing numbers in Florida is worrisome. Hopefully the recent ban is enough to halt the species’ rapid territorial expansion and keep the already fragile Everglades ecosystem intact. –Raffi Simel
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Our friends over at EthicalTraveler.org have selected ten developing countries to make up its annual list of The Developing World’s 10 Best Ethical Travel Destinations.
Over the last half century, as developments in commercial aircraft and information technology have been taken advantage of and used more widely, the world has become increasingly interconnected. This fact has brought opportunities for global adventurers to travel like never before. However, the typical traveler’s limited resources don’t allow him or her to travel to every destination in the world: We must choose, and for the sake of the planet we must choose responsibly. To do so, we must understand and maximize our power as consumers, using our dollars and sense to financially support the most ethical destinations.
But what qualities do the folks at Ethical Traveler look for when measuring the world’s most ethical travel destinations? The primary factors they take into consideration include Environmental Protection, Social Welfare and Human Rights. After weighing the scores of hundreds of destinations around the world, the countries to be congratulated this year (in alphabetical order) are:
The folks at Ethical Traveler have an incredibly in-depth ranking procedure that compares data from sources such as Freedom House, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the World Bank, and many other environmental indicators such as the Socioeconomic Data & Applications Center and the Environmental Performance Index, just to name a few. The data is also examined over time, to determine the growth of these destinations in these critical areas.
Many countries that did not make their 2012 list ranked very high on one or two of the aforementioned criteria, such as Environmental Protection or Social Welfare, but failed to meet the standards on the others, such as Human Rights. The countries selected for the Best Ethical Destinations list really have to have the whole package: The highest rank went to The Bahamas, followed by Chile.
In Environmental Protection, Costa Rica had the highest marks– the only developing country in the world to score in the “100-85” category in the Environmental Protection Index (EPI). Chile scored particularly high in environmental protection as well. Namibia has been thought of by many environmentalists as one of the most environmentally progressive countries in Africa, but they have not been included on Ethical Traveler’s list because of their horrific fur seal slaughter rates. Hopefully they will end the annual wildlife massacre soon, and be included on next year’s list.
Social Welfare included indicators such as child mortality rates (Serbia and Latvia scored particularly well), access to safe drinking water, malnutrition, vaccinations, as well as sustainable water and agricultural management.
Perhaps the most interesting criteria, though, was Human Rights. The Bahamas, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominica, Palau and Uruguay received the highest possible scores in Political Rights and Civil Liberties. Rights for homosexuals also proved to be critical in consideration for the rankings. Argentina’s senate passed a law legalizing same-sex marriage (the only Latin American country to do so). Nations such as Ghana, Belize and Guyana have incredibly impressive records in environmental standards and boast a lot of travel appeal, but their anti-gay statutes are stringently enforced and for that reason alone they were removed from consideration.
While all of the country on the EthicalTraveler.org list would be excellent destinations to visit, the indirect aim of their ranking system is to urge travelers to become more mindful of how powerful their travel choices can be, and what those choices say about their personal priorities. We here at Green Global Travel hope that you’ll take these factors into consideration in your future travel plans, and perhaps you’ll prioritize visiting one of the great destinations on this list. –Raffi Simel
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The nation of Ecuador is heading a controversial fundraising initiative to keep their Yasuni-ITT region of the Amazon– arguably the most biodiverse region in the world– out of harm’s way. In order for the country not to drill oil from the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputinin blocs of the Yasuni National Park, they have asked the international community to pledge $3.6 billion (approximately half of what the oil would be worth) to the United Nations Development Fund.
The South American country– long considered at the forefront of environmental conservation thanks to its management of the Galapagos Islands– recently revealed that they’ve raised $116 million for the initiative at the turn of the year, just over the $100 million mark needed to keep the initiative alive. Some of the donors thus far have included other countries, such as Turkey, Chile, Columbia, Georgia, Australia, Spain and Belgium. Italy has agreed to forgive $51 million of debt from Ecuador to be put towards the initiative, one of the largest single donations. Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa has contributed $40 million of his own winnings from a recent lawsuit he won over an opposition newspaper. Other donors include environmentalist Al Gore, and movie stars including Leonardo Dicaprio and Edward Norton.
Why are these countries and celebrities lining up to donate to what some would consider environmental blackmail? Because the stakes are too high not to. The Yasuni-ITT initiative will prevent an estimated 410 million tons of C02 from entering the atmosphere, safeguard indigenous populations, and protect one of the most biodiverse regions of the world. Research has shown Yasuni National Park contains the highest number of species in the western hemisphere based on data on birds, mammals, amphibians and plants. Up to 655 different tree species grow in a single hectare there– more than in all of the U.S. and Canada combined.
According to Hugo Mogollon, executive director of Finding Species (an NGO that works in Ecuador), “The Yasuni-ITT Initiative is pioneering. It is a serious effort to keep megadiverse forest intact, coming from the office of the President of Ecuador. Governments of the region and around the world should really want to support this.” At some point, governments around the world need to recognize that the long-term economic benefits of sustainable business practices far outweigh the short-term gain of commercial exploitation of natural resources. Perhaps this is a roundabout way of achieving just that.
Whether you agree with Ecuador’s methods or not, the country is managing to keep one of the most diverse regions in the world safe from oil drilling, not to mention initiating hundreds of millions of dollars worth of donations towards world development. Hopefully, other nations are taking note… –Raffi Simel
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