The National·The National Today

U.S., China weaken wildlife protections despite warnings of plunge in animal numbers

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: superpowers reduce animal protections; Turkey wants suspects in Jamal Khashoggi killing to stand trial in Turkey; eight questions on ebola.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

A Sumatran tiger is seen in Taronga Zoo in Sydney, part of a conservation breeding program for this critically endangered species of which only around 500 exist in the wild in Indonesia. On Monday, China rescinded a 25-year ban on the 'scientific and medical' use of rhinoceros horn and tiger bone, creating a quasi-legal market for the parts of two of the world's most-threatened species. (Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.


  • Major governments are rolling back wildlife protections, even as scientists warn that animal populations are in massive decline.
  • Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan​ called on Saudi Arabia to stop making "excuses" and hand over the 18 people it has arrested in connection with the Oct. 2 killing of Jamal Khashoggi inside the Kingdom's consulate in Istanbul.
  • Eight questions about handling the latest ebola outbreak.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

Animals in decline

Our natural world is shrinking by the day and the animals that inhabit it are dying at an alarming speed.

That's the grim conclusion of the World Wildlife Fund's 2018 Living Planet Report, which found a 60 per cent decline in the planet's populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians over the past four decades.

The survey is filled with troubling stats:

  • The loss of 50 per cent of the world's corals in 30 years.
  • The destruction of one-fifth of the Amazon rainforest in the past half century.
  • A prediction that the proportion of the planet still "substantively free" from the impact of human activities will decline from one-quarter to one-tenth by 2050.

And the animal news from elsewhere only contributes to the sense that the Earth is in crisis.

Yesterday, the Chinese government rescinded a 25-year ban on the "scientific and medical" use of rhinoceros horn and tiger bone, creating a quasi-legal market for the parts of two of the world's most-threatened species.

Under the change, researchers are only supposed to use the pieces of "captive" rhinos and "naturally deceased" tigers, but it's not clear how this will be enforced.

A man burns elephant tusks and skin, as well as clouded leopard parts and tiger bone during an Oct. 4 ceremony to destroy confiscated wildlife parts in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, the first ever public display of action against its prolific illegal wildlife trade. (Ye Aung Thu/AFP/Getty Images)

In Canada, the caribou are well on their way to extinction, an expert tells the Globe and Mail, with all 11 herd groups under threat and in decline, and half now firmly in the "endangered" category.

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that climate change is operating like "an escalator to extinction" for birds that live on Peruvian mountain sides, with the warming weather forcing them higher and higher up the hills until they reach elevations where they can't survive.

The India Times reports the country's endangered owls are falling prey to poachers and trappers who sell them on for sacrifice in "black magic" bids for wealth, knowledge and wisdom, especially during the festival of Diwali.

And new research from scientists in the U.K. and California finds that widespread spraying for mosquitos that might be carrying the Zika virus is in fact killing honey bees, with 13 per cent of U.S. colonies now in danger.

The common thread in all of this is, of course, the actions of another animal — humans.

Wild caribou roam the tundra in Nunavut in 2009. New research says all 11 herd groups in Canada are under threat and in decline. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

In the United States, the Trump administration is moving to restrict how much information can be released about decisions taken under the Endangered Species Act.

This dovetails with a concerted push to open up more protected and public lands for resource extraction. Last week, the U.S. Interior Department granted its first approval for Arctic offshore drilling in federal waters.

The project, called "Alaska Liberty," will see the construction of a 3.5-hectare artificial island out of gravel, located a couple of kilometres off the coast, to house the drilling rigs. A half-dozen more such projects will soon follow in one of the world's most pristine wilderness areas.

Olive branches and excuses

Turkey will not forgive and forget the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.

That was the message that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivered to reporters in Ankara this morning. He called on Saudi Arabia to stop making "excuses" and hand over the 18 people it has arrested in connection with the Oct. 2 killing of the dissident journalist inside the Kingdom's consulate in Istanbul.

Prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed Oct. 2 inside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. (AFP/Getty Images)

The investigation should be wrapped up swiftly, Erdogan said.

"Now we have to solve this case. No need to prevaricate, it makes no sense to try to save certain people. We cannot let this subject end midway."

The Turkish leader's remarks are being widely interpreted as a reference to the suspected involvement of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Khashoggi plot.

And Erdogan again turned up the heat on Saudi Arabia's biggest ally, the United States, divulging that he had shared key details about the case with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel this past weekend.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses supporters at the parliament in Ankara on Tuesday. Erdogan said the Turkish prosecutor repeated to his Saudi counterpart its extradition request for 18 suspects in the Oct. 2 killing of Jamal Khashoggi to be put on trial in Istanbul. (Associated Press)

America is apparently busy trying to forge some sort of diplomatic end to the crisis, working behind the scenes to persuade the Saudis to end their feud with Qatar, a close Turkish ally, and stop the fighting and aid blockade in Yemen.

And this morning, the Saudi cabinet made a surprise announcement that the country will forgive $6 billion US in debt that it is owed by a number of countries in the developing world, as part of a UN initiative (details of the deal have yet to be released).

Such gestures and olive branches will not be enough to placate Khashoggi's loved ones.

Last night, the woman who waited in vain for him to exit the consulate — his Turkish fiancée Hatice Cengiz — said that she is "disappointed" in many world leaders and called on Donald Trump to help "reveal the truth" about the killing.

"He should not pave the way for a cover-up of my fiance's murder," she said during a memorial service in London.  "Let's not let money taint our conscience and compromise our values."

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Eight questions on ebola

The latest numbers from the World Health Organization are stark: 274 cases, 174 deaths.

Any ebola outbreak is cause for concern, but the current cluster in the Democratic Republic of Congo's North Kivu province is particularly worrisome. The area is densely populated, borders on several other nations including Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan, and is an active conflict zone, with up to 100 different armed factions battling the government.

The tense security situation has been further complicated by open hostility towards some of those who have arrived to help fight the virus, with aid workers coming under attack as they try treat victims or safely bury the dead.

Vancouver Island native Gwen Eamer has been working for the International Red Cross in the DRC as a Health Coordinator and Safe and Dignified Burials team leader. She spoke to the National Today about the unique challenges posed by this outbreak.

Q: Who volunteers for the safe burial squads?

A: These volunteers are community members, which I think is the most important aspect.

The Red Cross is able to do that work because of that trust. These are not outsiders. They are from down the road. They speak the same language. They're from the same community. And many have been Red Cross volunteers for years. They have previously brought assistance from floods or conflict, and they are known as sources of help — and sources of information that is useful to people.

Our whole approach is based on using local people to do local work. And that's all based on acceptance and trust. The fact that these volunteers still face resistance speaks to the level of difficulty.

A 'safe and dignified burial team' trains at the Red Cross office in Beni city. (IFRC)

Q: I imagine it must take an emotional toll ...

It's challenging, particularly for volunteers who are doing it day in and day out.

For that reason we provide psychological support to our volunteers, in terms of debriefings. It's very, very hard, especially when you're dealing with children or your community members. Ebola doesn't discriminate.

And we've had some volunteers who have had losses within their own families. And then three or four weeks later, after the quarantine period, they're back helping again, which is amazing — and I think so important, in terms of the empathy and compassion they can bring. To be able to say I was here a month ago, and I can tell you that we can help.

Q: You mentioned the children. The most recent statistics count 43 of the 70 dead since the beginning of October as having been under the age of 16. That has to be doubly difficult.

My sense is that the number of cases in children is increasing. I'm not an epidemiologist and I haven't seen a good explanation as to why.

Typically what we see in Ebola is that women tend to be infected more than men, because of their traditional role as carers both in health care facilities as nurses and at home. It's the mom and the wife who do the caring for a sick family member.

A Red Cross community engagement team demonstrates Ebola protection and decontamination procedures in Beni city, Democratic Republic of Congo, last month. The outbreak of the deadly virus has killed 174 people. (IFRC)

Q: You were in Guinea and Liberia during the big 2014 Ebola outbreak. How does the current crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo compare?

The response in DRC is much, much more complex.

In West Africa, those three countries that were most heavily hit are post-conflict countries. You do still have these elements of distrust, these elements of broken down systems. But the degree of difficulty and complexity in DRC is not something that I've seen before.

I really cannot stress enough how challenging it is as an operating environment, to do a job that is of high quality. You need to do a good job if people are to avoid infection. You need to take the time and create the space to do a good job, whether it's infection control or communications or safe and dignified burials. Creating that space has been very, very challenging.

Q: Is that primarily because of the security situation?

Yes, and I think from the social and cultural aspects that emerge from having had a generation of conflict that people don't trust each other. That people are scared. That people don't want to see outsiders coming in, necessarily, or they don't trust their purpose.

Yes, the security context is important, and it creates complexities. But it's almost more the impact of trying to carry out these operations in a population that has been affected by so much insecurity. A population that has experienced so much war.

Q: What about the health precautions that you have to take while you're working there? Do they just become second nature?

It's interesting how quickly it becomes ingrained. For us, we have what we call a "no touch" mission. The closest you come to human contact is an elbow tap, and that's if someone really, really needs human contact. It's amazing how deeply that becomes ingrained.

I just did two Ebola missions back-to-back — I was also leading the response in Equateur for the outbreak that ended just before this one was recognized. And the no-touch affects you. Humans are animals who touch. We are social creatures who shake hands, and kiss cheeks and high-five. I think it has significant impact in the field when you're having a really rough day, and I can't give you a hug any of that physical touching.

And when you come back, the first person that give you a hug, the first person that shakes your hand, there's this moment of freezing before you say, 'Oh,it's OK.' I've spent three out of the last four months in an Ebola context and I still get surprised when people shake my hand.

A door-to-door outreach community engagement team makes it rounds in the Malepe and Rwangoma neighbourhoods of Beni city. The DRC Red Cross has a strong in-country capacity to respond to Ebola, with 150,000 volunteers across the country. (IFRC)

Q: This is the tenth ebola outbreak in the DRC since 1976, and the illness has been in the news so much in the past few years. What do you think Canadians still need to learn about the disease?

I would say it's the stigma, and how we treat people who come back.

One of the best things Canada can do is send resources; money equipment and people who know how to help. But if those people come home to Canada and are told 'you're a bad parent,' because you are putting your child at risk, or you can't possibly go back to work because you're going to infect everyone — neither of these things are true. That's not how ebola works.

We need to talk to people about where the risk is and where the risk isn't. And create an environment where if you go and help with ebola, you're doing a good thing — it makes you a good parent, a good citizen, a good employee. It does not bring a threat home to Canada.

Q: Do you feel like people treat you differently when they find out you work in ebola relief?

Yes. Those of us who came back from West Africa, when there was so much media hype and attention focused on the outbreak, I think many of us experienced a certain degree of stigma. People who didn't want to touch us, who didn't want to be near us, who thought that we were going to spread the disease in Canada.

And to be clear, to spread the disease you have to have active symptoms yourself. Essentially, if I'm not sick, I can't make you sick. It's not like measles or other diseases where you can spread it before you have symptoms.

There was so much hype and fear, and just so much panic around the virus, it actually prevented some people from going, because they didn't want to deal with the aftermath of coming home.

A few words on ... 

A symbol of Pittsburgh's resolve.

Quote of the moment

"Even people that might have smoked it 20, 30 years ago, they're being asked 'Have you ever smoked cannabis?' when they get to the U.S. border. We understand some people have said yes, that they have, and have been turned back."

Roy Ludwig, the mayor of Estevan, Sask., on what has been happening at the nearby border with North Dakota since recreational pot was legalized in Canada.

Roy Ludwig, Mayor of Estevan, Sask. (City of Estevan)

What The National is reading

  • 60% of world's wildlife has been wiped out since 1970 (CBC)
  • Bangladesh, Myanmar agree to begin Rohingya repatriation by mid-November (Reuters)
  • Previous 'roller-coaster' flight of crashed Lion Air jet scared passengers (CBC)
  • Former nurse in Germany confesses to killing 100 patients (Deutsche Welle)
  • Antidepressant use has tripled among teens in a decade (CTV)
  • Ex-drug kingpin now a house painter, parole docs say (Vancouver Sun)
  • Antarctic scientist stabbed book-spoiling colleague, report (Fox News)
  • Meghan beats Harry at welly wanging (Telegraph)

Today in history

Oct. 30, 1970: Life on the road with Stompin' Tom Connors

The late Canadian icon, dressed in his trademark black hat, sits down with Elmer Glover and shares tales from the rougher side of town between drags on his smoke. Like the oft-told tale of how he got start singing for 40-cent beers in a Timmins hotel. Or that time in Kapuskasing, when the locals had a violent reaction to his tune about a bloody labour dispute.

Life on the road with Stompin' Tom Connors

52 years ago
Duration 9:28
In 1970, the man who wrote Bud the Spud talks about the fateful night in Timmins, Ont. that launched his career.

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Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.