Hunting News

Friday, August 30, 2013

Help for hatchlings on the beach

By Airman 1st Class Alex Echols, 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs / Published August 29, 2013

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFNS) -- Confused, disoriented and covered with sand, a sand-dollar sized sea turtle searches for the sea. Going the wrong way, a giant hand helps it find the hard, damp sand recently wet by waves. It tumbles many times as the tide comes in to greet it, but each time it finds it feet and charges forward determined to reach open water.

The 325th Civil Engineer Squadron Natural Resources specialists monitor and protect the sea turtles who come to Tyndall AFB's beaches to nest. They also compile data for Florida's monitoring system on these nests including where the nests are located, what species of turtles laid the nest and how many successfully hatched out of the nest.

"The overall goal is to recover these species to the point that they are no longer on the endangered species list," said Wendy Jones, awildlife biologist with the 325th CES.

Every spring, there are four species of adult sea turtles that can be seen in the local waters: the loggerhead, which is the most common; the Kemp's ridley; the leatherback; and the green sea turtle. From May to August they lay their nests on Florida beaches.

The female turtles come onto the shore at night to scout a good location for their nest. When she finds her ideal spot, she digs with her back flippers a hole at least two foot deep with the top of the egg clutch roughly 10 inches down from the surface of the sand. After filling the hole with eggs, she camouflages the nest by fluffing the sand above and around it to protect it from predators.

Each turtle lays multiple nests during a season, which hold from 50 to 130 eggs depending on the species and age of the turtle.

"For a turtle to be successful, it really only needs one turtle to grow up and replace it," Jones said.

Depending on the weather, the eggs take an average of 60 days to incubate. A hotter, drier summer hatches the eggs much quicker than a rainier, cooler one.

From incubation to hatching to the crawl to the water, the baby turtles face many threats on their journey to the ocean. Factors such as storms and flooding can wash out the nests and once hatched, lighting attracts the turtles to populated areas like roads. These are big problems for the hatchlings, but their most prevalent threat is predation from birds, ghost crabs, coyotes, sharks and other animals that view baby turtles as food.

To deter beach predators, Natural Resources technicians place a wire screen over the nest with holes that are wide enough for the baby turtles to climb out but narrow enough to prevent the predators from digging the nest up.

Then, they cordon off the nest area to prevent people from disturbing it and to make the nests easier to find for monitoring purposes. At the height of the nesting season, the biologists and their volunteers survey the beach five days a week.

So far this season, they have located 59 nests, which must be checked during each survey. The survey begins at day break and could last several hours depending on what they find.

"Every day is different when you're out there," said Shannon Secco, the lead biological aide with the 325th CES. "You never know what to expect, but you know that when you're out there you try to do your best to help them, and that is a good feeling."

The surveyors comb the beach in search of new nests, identified by the crawl marks the mother leaves in the sand. They also check each identified nest for any sign of predation or if the eggs have hatched.

"When we see the signs the nest has hatched, we wait three days and then we dig it up," Jones said. "The three days allows the turtles a chance to hatch naturally and come out on their own."

Delicacy is the key to the excavation of a nest because there could still be eggs inside that have yet to hatch or turtles who have not yet made it to the surface, said John Jennings, the 325th CES Natural Resources wildlife technician.

"The main thing to keep in mind when digging up a nest is to make sure not to dig into the turtle," Jennings said. "You want to dig out the sand out from around him and then get underneath him and pull him up. You have to try to get underneath him so you're not hurting a little turtle."

Once the surveyors have counted the egg shells, unhatched eggs and baby turtles, they collect the turtles. Finally, they bring the baby turtles to the edge of the shore line and release them one at a time. The turtles may struggle to get their sea legs, but once they navigate their first wave, they disappear into the Gulf. After that, it is up to them to make it to adulthood.

"It really feels like you're helping the little turtles out," Jennings said. "That's what we're out here doing this for, to help the turtle population make a comeback."

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Antiques Dealer Pleads Guilty in New York City Federal Court to Wildlife Smuggling Conspiracy

Qiang Wang, a/k/a Jeffrey Wang, a New York antiques dealer, pleaded guilty today in federal court in New York City to conspiracy to smuggle Asian artifacts made from rhinoceros horns and ivory and violate wildlife trafficking laws, announced Robert G. Dreher, the Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice, Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Wang was arrested in February 2013 as part of “Operation Crash,” a nation-wide crackdown in the illegal trafficking in rhinoceros horns, for his role in smuggling libation cups carved from rhinoceros horns from New York to Hong Kong and China.  He pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest of the Southern District of New York.

“Wang and others conspired in an illegal trade that is threatening the future of these species,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Dreher. “This prosecution and continuing investigation should send a clear message to buyers and sellers that we will vigorously investigate and prosecute those who are involved in this devastating trade.” 

“Today’s guilty plea ensures that Qiang Wang, who flouted domestic and international regulations by smuggling artifacts made from an endangered species out of the United States, will be held to account for his crimes,” said U.S. Attorney Bharara.  “This Office will continue to work with its law enforcement partners to hold to account anyone engaged in this illegal trade.”

“Poaching and profiteering are undermining decades of work by conservationists to stabilize and rebuild rhino and elephant populations,” said Fish and Wildlife Service Director Ashe.  “As this latest guilty plea demonstrates, we continue working with our partners in the United States and overseas to stop the slaughter and crack down on the illegal trafficking that fuels it.”   

According to the information, plea agreement, and statements made during court proceedings:

In China, there is a tradition dating back centuries of intricately carving rhinoceros horn cups.  Drinking from such a cup was believed by some to bring good health, and antique carvings are highly prized by collectors.  Libation cups and other ornamental carvings are particularly sought after in China and in other Asian countries, as well as in the United States.  The escalating value of such items has resulted in an increased demand for rhinoceros horn that has helped fuel a thriving black market, including fake antiques made from recently hunted rhinoceros.   

Between approximately January 2011 and February 2013, Wang conspired with at least two others to smuggle objects containing rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory out of the United States knowing that it was illegal to export such items without required permits.  Due to their dwindling populations, all rhinoceros and elephant species are protected under international trade agreements.  Wang made and used false U.S. Customs Declarations for the packages containing rhinoceros horn and ivory objects in order to conceal the true contents of the packages, and did not declare them to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or U.S. Customs and Border Protection as required under U.S. law and international trade agreements.

Wang, 34, of Flushing, N.Y., pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.  Under the terms of the plea agreement, items recovered from Wang’s apartment, including an ivory statute found hidden behind his bed, will be forfeited.  He is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Forrest on Oct. 25, 2013. 

Rhinoceros are an herbivore species of prehistoric origin and one of the largest remaining mega-fauna on earth. They have no known predators other than humans. All species of rhinoceros are protected under United States and international law.  Since 1976, trade in rhinoceros horn has been regulated under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a treaty signed by over 170 countries around the world to protect fish, wildlife, and plants that are or may become imperiled due to the demands of international markets. 

Operation Crash is a continuing investigation being conducted by the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), in coordination with other federal and local law enforcement agencies including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.  A “crash” is the term for a herd of rhinoceros.  Operation Crash is an ongoing effort to detect, deter and prosecute those engaged in the illegal killing of rhinoceros and the unlawful trafficking of rhinoceros horns.

Mr. Bharara and Mr. Dreher commended the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its outstanding work in this investigation.  They also thanked the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Division of Law Enforcement and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations for their assistance. 

The case is being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office Complex Frauds Unit and the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.  Assistant United States Attorney Janis M. Echenberg and Senior Trial Attorney Richard A. Udell of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section are in charge of the prosecution.