Nigerian Oil, Shark Fin Soup & Elephant Poaching: Planet in Peril's Lisa Ling Answers TreeHugger's Questions

lisa ling photo

Over on CNN their award-winning series Planet in Peril, hosted by Anderson Cooper, Lisa Ling and Dr Sanjay Gupta, is returning for another season (the premier episode is Thursday, December 11 at 9 PM EST) focusing on the some of the conflicts that are occurring when growing populations put stresses on the environment and on natural resources.

TreeHugger had a chance to ask Lisa Ling some questions about some of the episodes she worked on:
Nigerian Oil Causes Environmental & Social Damage
Ling traveled to the Niger River Delta and witnessed the ecological and social problems which oil exploration has brought to the region and met with militant group MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta).

I asked what can be done to repair the social fabric of the region, the environmental damage; and what can be done to force changes in the way that oil companies operate in Nigeria. Ling responded:

Little has been done to address the social issues.  There is a new government in the rivers states that claims to want to rectify the imbalance and the many issues, just as of yet, the jury is still out.

The global community must act.  The US is the biggest consumer of Nigeria's oil and seems to look the other direction when it comes to the injustice that's been wrought there.  By highlighting the issues, I hope we can bring attention to them.  The fact that there have been over 6,000 major oil spills in Nigeria that go largely unreported is a travesty of epic proportions.  That's 50 times more than what Exxon Valdez spilled in 1989.

How bad is the situation in Nigeria?

  • In terms of corruption, Nigeria is ranked 121 out of 181 countries by Transparency International
  • The oil sector in Nigeria accounts for 95% of the country’s export revenue and 80% of total revenue
  • Nigeria is the world’s 8th largest oil exporter, with about a 2 million barrel per day capacity
  • Attacks by militants and kidnappings of foreign oil works have shut down about 20% of crude output in Nigeria in the past three years
  • 50% of Nigeria’s population lives below the poverty line

More on: Nigeria's oil curse

lisa ling elephant tusks photo

Ivory Poaching in Eastern Chad
Over the past forty years populations of Central African elephants has declined from about 200,000 to only several thousand individuals today. Ling traveled to Zakouma National Park in eastern Chad to examine the gruesome nature of ivory poaching in person.

What I wanted to know was where most of this ivory is being sold and what can people do to stop the poaching and the continue decline of elephants in the region:

The two biggest markets for ivory are the US and China. Though selling ivory is banned, the black market has been thriving of late as China's middle class balloons. This is another case in which public awareness is necessary to alert people of the consequences of the ivory trade. Ivory is helping to fund the conflict the conflict in Darfur as rebels from there are coming into Chad and ravaging the elephants. Chad is a very poor country, but trying to do everything it can to protect the elephants. Unfortunately, their efforts are not enough.

Some grim stats on the illegal ivory trade:

  • The ivory trade was banned in 1989 but the illegal ivory trade is still growing
  • In 2006 during Wildlife Conservation Society's last survey of elephants in Zakouma National Park, 2900 elephants were counted. The previous year the elephant population was closer to 3800.
  • The US State Department puts the value of the illegal ivory trade at least $10 billion annually, and possibly double that.
  • In the US there are 600 retail outlets for ivory, in 16 cities

Ling’s blog entry on ivory poaching: Surveying elephants with jubilation and horror

lisa ling shark fins photo

Rising East Asian Middle Class Increases Threatens Sharks
Ling traveled with Peter Knights, cofounder of WildAid to examine the impact on growing demand for shark fin soup in Asia. To do so she went to Cocos Island off of Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast and to Taiwan’s fish markets.

I asked her what can be done to decrease demand for shark fin soup and decrease pressure on shark populations:

The only hope for the shark population is public awareness.  Shark fin soup is by no means an essential food staple.  In fact, shark fin doesn't even have flavor.  If more people become aware of what's happening to the shark population, and how vital it is to the ocean's ecosystem, people may be more inclined to stop consuming it.

Some quick facts about the intersection of humans and sharks:

  • Humans kill at least 100 million sharks annually
  • The vast majority of caught shark fins are used in soup
  • All recorded shark species, with one exception, have declined by more than 50% in the past 8 to 15 years
  • Shark fins currently sell for about $500 per pound

More: Lisa Ling’s blog entry on shark finning
all images: CNN

Slideshow of Planet in Peril photos

Nigerian Oil, Elephants, Sharks
Bowoto v Chevron Human Rights Case Could Set Legal Precedent with Environmental Applicability
CSI Wildlife: DNA Forensics Used to Prevent Elephant Poaching
Jean-Michel Cousteau: Sharks Need Our Help

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