Hunting News

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Rhino Horn Trafficker Arrested and Detained

Irish National Arrested for Passing Fraudulent Documents in Connection with His Sale of Four Black Rhinoceros Horns for $50,000
Earlier today, a federal magistrate judge in Brooklyn detained an Irish national who was arrested on Saturday and charged in a complaint for false labeling in connection with his alleged role in international rhinoceros horn smuggling in violation of the Lacey Act.  The arrest and charge is a result of “Operation Crash,” a nationwide effort led by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute those involved in the black market trade of endangered rhinoceros horns.

  The Department of Justice filed a complaint in federal court in the Eastern District of New York alleging that Michael Slattery, Jr., a 25-year-old Irish national, fraudulently purchased a set of black rhinoceros horns in Texas and then travelled to New York and used a falsified document to sell the horns for $50,000.

The charge and arrest were announced by Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Robert G. Dreher, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division.

 According to the complaint filed in on September 14, 2013, in 2010 Slattery traveled from England to Texas to acquire black rhinoceros horns.  Slattery and others then used a day laborer with a Texas driver’s license as a straw buyer to purchase two horns from an auction house in Austin.  The complaint charges that Slattery and his group then traveled to New York where they presented a fraudulent Endangered Species Bill of Sale and sold those two and two other horns to an individual for $50,000.        

 According to court records and government statements made in court, Slattery is a member of The Rathkeale Rovers (also known as the “Irish Travelers”), which are tight-knit extended family groups that live a nomadic lifestyle.  The group leverages the rising price for rhinoceros horns in the black market to be used for traditional medicines and carving.  According to information made public by Europol, the Rathkeale Rovers have been involved in an epidemic of raids on museums in Europe in which rhinoceros horns have been stolen.

 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, and all black rhinoceros species are endangered.  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 more than 175 countries around the world to protect fish, wildlife and plants that are or may become imperiled due to the demands of international markets. Nevertheless, the demand for rhinoceros horn and black market prices have skyrocketed in recent years due to the value that some cultures have placed on ornamental carvings, good luck charms or alleged medicinal purposes, leading to a decimation of the global rhinoceros population.  In China, there is a tradition dating back centuries of intricately carved rhinoceros horn cups.  Drinking from such a cup was believed to bring good health and such carvings are highly prized by collectors. As a result of this demand, rhino populations have declined by more than 90 percent since 1970.  South Africa, for example, has witnessed a rapid escalation in poaching of live animals, rising from 13 in 2007 to more than 618 in 2012.  

 The charge in the complaint is merely and allegation, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.  The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Julia Nestor of the Eastern District of New York and Trial Attorney Gary N. Donner of the Justice Department’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Help for hatchlings on the beach

By Airman 1st Class Alex Echols, 325th Fighter Wing Public Affair

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."

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Serving country, African wild animals part of routine for ANG Airman

By Staff Sgt. Traci Payne, 131st Bomb Wing Public Affairs

 WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. (AFNS) --For one Missouri National Guardsman, life as a Citizen-Airman is far from the wilds of her civilian career.

Airman Casey Self, a zookeeper at the Kansas City Zoo, joined the 131st Bomb Wing to expand her resume from taking care of animals on land and water to people in the sky as well.

“When I moved to the Kansas City area and learned more about Whiteman Air Force Base through friends stationed there, I realized that I had a great opportunity right in front of me,” Self said. “That's when I decided to enlist in the Air National Guard.  Serving my country and being a part of such a great team, I feel like I will help make a difference in people’s lives.”

Self, who enlisted as an aviation resource management technician with the 131st, has already demonstrated the potential for a long and successful career, said Tech Sgt. Jason Jones, her recruiter.

“Airman Self has shown herself to be an outstanding addition to the 131st through her strong work ethic and dedication,” Jones said.  “She has demonstrated leadership qualities that will be strengthened throughout her Air Force training and benefit the Missouri Air National Guard for years to come.”

A native of Illinois, Self said she knew from a young age she wanted to spend her life working with animals.

“It wasn't until I started to study applied animal behavior that I realized that I wanted to be an animal trainer,” Self said. “In the zoo world the zookeepers are the animal trainers so that's why I decided to pursue a career in zookeeping.”

She graduated from the University of Illinois in 2009 with a degree in animal science.  From there, Self began a series of internships and jobs that moved her around the country to gain experience.  Almost a year ago, she accepted a position at the Kansas City Zoo.

The new job came with a lot of responsibility.

“My responsibilities as a zookeeper encompass everything that has to do with the welfare of the animals in my section, which is the Ruwenzori area,” Self said. “We are responsible for the section of the African exhibits that house the chimpanzees, hippos, leopard tortoises, African wild dogs, baboons and slender snouted crocodiles.”

While Self’s dream was to work with animals, she had another goal: to serve her country.  Self said she has wanted to serve since she was a child, and participated in Junior ROTC during high school. She considered enlisting during her senior year, but ultimately decided to take another path.

The years spent working in her current civilian career field will make her a better, more responsible Airman, Self said.  Though her specific civilian job responsibilities may seem far out of the realm of military tasks, Self said the environment she works in has prepared her well for her duties as a Citizen Airman.

“My job in the Air National Guard will be aviation resources management where I will be supporting the pilots to fly the B-2s,” Self said. “We have a very labor-intensive, fast-paced, high-tempo job that is also very rewarding.”

Going from the zoo to Missouri Air National Guard blue, Self’s story is a testament to never giving up on a dream.  She is currently awaiting dates for basic training and technical school, and is excited for the challenges ahead of her.

“I’m thankful for the flexibility that being in the Air National Guard provides for reaching all of my career goals,” Self said.  “I feel like everything has fallen into place and this is where I have always wanted to be.”

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Fight to Put an End to Wildlife Trafficking

September 9th, 2013 
Courtesy of Acting Assistant Attorney General Robert G. Dreher of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division

Today, I was honored to join officials from the Departments of State and the Interior and many others, including Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, at a White House event to announce the members of the new Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking.
The council will work closely with the President’s Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking, established by the Executive Order on Combating Wildlife Trafficking that the President signed in July, in developing a national strategy on these issues. The council includes many accomplished professionals from government, non-government and private sector backgrounds.  Among them is former Justice Department Environmental Crimes Assistant Chief John Webb, who has given 25 years in service to nation protecting wildlife.  John continues to serve and support international efforts to protect wildlife through training and promoting the use of investigative techniques. 

President Obama signed Executive Order 13648 on Combating Wildlife Trafficking on July 1, 2013, establishing a Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking.  The task force is co-chaired by the Secretaries of State and the Interior and the Attorney General, or their designees, and includes senior-level representatives from 14 additional federal departments and agencies.

Vigorous enforcement of the nation’s wildlife trafficking laws, through investigation and prosecution of those who violate those laws, is a central element of the nation’s efforts to combat wildlife trafficking.  It is equally important to help other countries affected by such crimes —  whether they be the source, a trafficking transit point, or a destination for illegally taken wildlife — build the capacity to stop this brutal trade.\

Working with the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service and others, the Department of Justice has successfully prosecuted numerous cases of illicit wildlife smuggling involving trafficking of rhinoceros horns, elephant ivory, South African leopard, Asian and African tortoises and reptiles, and many other forms of protected wildlife and protected plant species.

The illicit wildlife trade increasingly involves international organized crime and millions of dollars, and it is driving some protected species towards extinction in our own time.  The Department of Justice treats these crimes with the utmost seriousness.

We are looking forward to fulfilling our role on the task force and to working together with other agencies and the new advisory council to develop a national strategy to stop this illegal trade.  Today’s event brings together the coordinated efforts of the U.S. government with private and nonprofit partners to address a truly international crisis.