The Cove, the striking documentary about the annual dolphin slaughter in Taiji, has finally screened in Japan. It was shown at the Tokyo International Film Festival this week, according to an interview with director Louie Psihoyos, posted on Boing Boing today.

Although Psihoyos noted the screening was tucked away at 10:30am and not publicized, showing the movie in Japan is a hugely important step for those concerned about dolphin conservation. The movie debuted earlier this year (I saw a preview for it before The End of the Line), and shows damning footage of the bloody annual hunt, including dolphin meat being sold to Japanese schools surreptitiously. Since dolphins are top-level predators, they can have dangerously high levels of mercury — up to 5000 the levels legally allowed by Japan. Of course, dolphins are also highly charismatic animals, beloved by most people. It’s particularly striking that the dolphin hunters in Taiji make a much larger profit for capturing a dolphin and selling it to amusement parks or aquariums than selling it for meat.

Last month, on September 1, the media arrived in Taiji to publicize the beginning of the annual hunt. For the first time, even members of the Japanese media were present. Under the pressure, the hunt was delayed as hunters debated how to proceed. Former Flipper trainer Rick O’Barry, star of The Cove, was even in town to watch events unfold.

By the end of the first week of September, however, the hunt had finally begun. Of the dolphins caught that day, half were sold to aquariums, and half were released.

Although the publicity has been unkind to Taiji, their dolphin hunt is not the only one of its kind. Because of the cove setting, it’s very photogenic, but dolphin hunts outside of Japan persist, mainly for food. Dolphin hunts are ongoing in the Soloman Islands. Less than 100 dolphins are killed there each year, but there may only be hundreds of dolphins in the entire population in that area. The public outcry over The Cove will hopefully help contribute to awareness of dolphin slaughter.

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Large game poaching in Africa is reaching a fever pitch. The level of rhino poaching is about to hit a 15-year high, in a situation described as “bleak” in a report presented earlier this year at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Standing Committee in Geneva. The report, “Status, Conservation, and Trade in African and Asian Rhinoceroses” (PDF), was published by TRAFFIC, WWF, and the IUCN. According to the WWF, “Illegal rhino horn trade to destinations in Asia is driving the killing, with growing evidence of involvement of Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai nationals in the illegal procurement and transport of rhino horn out of Africa.”

In South Africa and Zimbabwe alone, about 12 rhinos are killed each month, with elaborate cover-ups protecting the perpetrators. Compared with the rate of one to three rhinos killed per month from 2000 to 2005 in the entire African continent, the situation is clearly dire. Africa only has approximately 18,000 rhinos left, and has only reached that number after decades of assiduous conservation efforts. I can only imagine how heartbreaking it must be for groups that have worked so hard to rebound rhino populations to see these animals poached to supply Asian “medicine”. I’m trying hard to be impartial here, so let’s just stick with the facts:

  • In early July, Kruger National Park in South Africa announced their plan to auction off up to 350 white rhinos to the highest bidders (usually game hunting reserves who cater to tourists). As hunting and poaching within the park is increasing dramatically, selling off rhinos to be legally killed seemed like a strange response. The Telegraph and Ecoworldly both have reports of the controversy, including an explanation of how this hunting loophole enables illegal wildlife trade.
  • Later that month, the tame, hand-reared white rhino Toliwe was poached in Mount Savannah reserve, in South Africa. He was found with his horn partially hacked off, after someone flying over the reserve saw poachers trying to remove his horn and called the authorities. Toliwe’s owner, Rob Dickerson, has said that the rhino was likely still alive while his horn was being hacked off, and is offering a substantial reward for information about the murder.
  • At the beginning of August, Ecoworldly picked up the story of Andrew Malone, a reporter for the UK’s Daily Mail. Malone went undercover, posing as a buyer of illegal rhino horn, and exposed part of an underground poaching cartel known as “The Crocodile Gang” operating out of Zimbabwe. The article includes mentions of a subsequent cover-up when poached horns are discovered, as well as death threats made against Malone for his role in the exposé.
  • Less than a week later, the second rhino poaching within a week in KwaZulu-Natal, in South Africa, is reported. The seven-year-old white rhino even had a tracker assigned to protect her from poachers, to no avail. She was discovered, as so many rhinos have been reportedly found: lying dead with her horn hacked out of her face.
  • Thankfully, there’s been some good news out there, too. Tanzania charged six businessmen for poaching and smuggling illegal ivory in July. Four men responsible for two of the KwaZulu-Natal rhino poachings were arrested last month. Eight poachers were killed in armed confrontations (it would have been more fitting to have their fingernails cut out of their hands before they died, but oh well) in an anti-poaching effort in Zimbabwe. In the same operation, 46 black rhinos were relocated to safer locations.

    Naturally, China denies allegations that it has any links to the rise of game killings.

    You can donate to Save the Rhinos International for Zimbabwe’s rhino crisis. Then, to perk you up a bit, read about this: