Urban Eels Wins National and International Planning Awards

Awards & NZPI Planning Quarterly February 2022

Such a great start to 2022! I’m delighted to share with you that “Urban Eels: Our Sustainable City” received the New Zealand PIanning Institute Rodney Davis Project Award 2021 and won the Commonwealth Association of Planners (CAP) Award for Conservation of the Built and Natural Environment and Cultural Heritage, announced at the Malaysia City Expo November 2021.

NZPI kindly invited me to provide an article on Urban Eels for their Planning Quarterly magazine – and so I put pen to paper over the Summer holiday! And here it is – “Reweaving Nature into Our Cities” features in Planning Quarterly February 2022! I discuss the project, the place, the people and the process that brought Urban Eels to fruition. I hope it provides some good food for thought and inspires others to share their ideas and chase their dreams too! Thanks to NZPI and the PQ editorial team for their encouragement and their stunning presentation of the article.

Read the Planning Quarterly article

Watch Urban Eels video

Read “Urban Eels: Our Sustainable City” Implementation Plan (2018)

Urban Eels Dawn Blessing

On 31st July we held a dawn blessing for “Urban Eels: Our Sustainable City”. Together, we have created a new space within our urban fabric to reconnect with nature and share and experience Tikanga Māori. Feeling grateful and honoured to have shared this journey with so many inspiring people.

Mihimihi / speeches – Fiona Gordon

“Tēnā kotou [good morning],

Urban Eels is a very special place.

Today is a very special day.

Both mark the success of a truly collaborative project.

But it was not always a project.  It started as an idea.  It blossomed into a four-year journey.  Now, it has become a destination for everyone to enjoy.

Urban Eels was only able to develop and grow because of the people.  Those people brought their skills, their knowledge, their time, their energy, and their resources to the table – along with a big dose of passion and persistence and, importantly, a shared vision.

Together, we have created a sanctuary for tuna [eel].  A place that tells us of the enduring relationship between man and tuna. 

It is a place for us to reconnect with nature and to share and experience Tikanga Māori – philosophies and practices.  These, in my mind, are essential components for the development of a wider sustainability practice in New Zealand.

There are so many people to thank today, most of whom have already been acknowledged by previous speakers. However, I do wish to say a very special thank you to two people in particular, Paul Horton and Danielle Harris of Tanenuiarangi Manawatū Incorporated.

I feel both honoured and extremely grateful that Tanenuiarangi Manawatū Incorporated allowed me the opportunity to partner with them on this journey to bring Urban Eels to life.

Thank you to all who have contributed to and supported our journey together.







Ngā mihi.

Link to “Urban Eels: Our Sustainable City” Implementation Plan

Covid-19 and New Zealand’s Role in the Global Illegal Wildlife Trade

Covid19 and NZ illegal wildlife trade

By Fiona Gordon – Environmental Policy Analyst & Ambassador to the Jane Goodall Institute New Zealand

The pandemic which has sent countries into lock down and wiped billions from economies has refocused attention on the illicit trade of wild animals.  From pangolin scales to primate skulls, elephant ivory and tiger bone the wildlife products arriving at New Zealand’s border provide an insight into the truly global extent of the illegal trade in wildlife.

Scientists say the coronavirus (SARS CoV-2) that causes Covid-19 most likely originated in bat populations.  Somewhere along its evolutionary path it probably jumped to an intermediary host animal before acquiring its ability to infect humans. As it forges a path of misery around the globe it is exposing our inadequacies – those of national health systems, international agreements, and ultimately our conservation efforts.

Wild animals can naturally carry potentially harmful bacteria, parasites, fungi and viruses including coronaviruses. It is when these jump to humans—called a spillover event—that they can cause illnesses, known as zoonotic diseases.

Fortunately for us, intact and healthy ecosystems tend to provide a kind of natural firewall between humans and zoonotic diseases.

There are literally hundreds of coronaviruses circulating among animals such as pigs, camels, bats and cats. Of the seven coronaviruses known to affect people, three have emerged from their animal reservoirs to cause serious and widespread human illness and death in just the last two decades: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012 and now Covid-19.

Humankind has now poked so many holes in nature’s firewalls that coronaviruses can now just walk right on through. From the destruction of forests to our relentless encroachment into pristine habitats – in our failure to conserve the natural world, we have failed ourselves as well.

The stand-out failure though has to be our ongoing inability to halt the illegal wildlife trade. By default and by association, we’ve also failed to control the legal international wildlife trade effectively.  Concerns are now being raised that the shortcomings of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which regulates international wildlife trade could even expose us to the next pandemic.

At a recent IUCN Commission on Environmental Law webinar event, John Scanlon AO, former Secretary-General to CITES, explained that “CITES does not regulate the way the wildlife is harvested, handled, or stored in the source state, or how it’s handled, stored, sold or consumed in the destination state.” He said that, “captive breeding facilities, which now account for close to 60% of trade in animals, are not assessed by CITES on public health grounds. Yet all of these activities can pose a risk factor for the emergence of zoonotic diseases.”

Despite aiming to regulate international trade, as Scanlon points out, CITES does not create enforcement authorities or require illegal trade to be criminalized, and it is not a natural forum for police and other enforcement officials.

Such shortcomings are perhaps best illustrated by CITES’ inability to end wildlife crime, which is estimated to be the world’s fourth biggest illegal trade. A pertinent example is that of the pangolin, which has been suggested as a potential intermediary host of Covid-19, although research is so far inconclusive.  Despite being afforded the highest-level of protection under CITES, the illegal trade in these scaly anteaters is at a record high, according to Scanlon.

With the unenviable reputation of being the most heavily trafficked wild mammal in the world it should be no surprise that pangolin body parts arrive in New Zealand too.

Between 2017 and 2018 official data show 12 occurrences of seizure or surrender (seizure records) of items consisting of pangolin body parts – a total of about 152 individual items including sachets of whole and powdered scales, bags of raw ingredients, tea bags and soup, a medicine ball, packets of tablets and pills, and a necklace containing a pangolin claw/foot. Most of the items arrived from China.

These products represent only a minute portion of the more than 18,000 seizure records of CITES listed wildlife over the same two year period.  About 65% of the seizure records are for corals and shells, another 8% are for the roots of plants, and a further 11% are for meat – typically crocodile and alligator meat, but also featuring minke whale, dolphin meat, bear, turtle and python meat.

Table 1:

*Seizure Records include records of seizure and records of surrender.

Data Source: New Zealand CITES Illegal Trade Report 2017 and 2018, provided by Department of Conservation, New Zealand. Graph Source:  Data analysis, summary and graph produced by Gordon Consulting, New Zealand.

Medicines make up a further 7% of the seizure records, over half of which are for Saussurea Costus, an endangered flowering thistle.  Other have been made from the body parts of animals such as Saiga Antelope, Musk Deer, leopard, tiger, bears (including bear bile), primates, turtles, pangolin and snakes. Other products include leather products, elephant ivory and feet, and the skulls, teeth and claws of leopard, bears, and lynx.

It makes for a gruesome shopping list and it is worthwhile recalling that each seizure record can and often does consist of multiple individual items – sometimes hundreds and even thousands of items.  About 5% of the seizure records represent more than 69,000 individual items made from wildlife considered to be threatened with extinction. Listed on CITES Appendix I, these are the most endangered species of all those listed under CITES and international trade is prohibited, except for exceptional cases.  The remaining seizure records are almost entirely for species listed on Appendix II.  These are species not necessarily now threatened with extinction, but they could become so if trade is not closely controlled.  This is not a mere numbers game.

So, how do all these wildlife products get to New Zealand?  By far the majority of seizure records are related to airports, in particular Auckland Airport situated within the country’s largest city. Data further indicate that 64% of the seizure records are associated with New Zealand citizens and 32% are associated with visitors.

Table 2:

*Seizure Records include records of seizure and records of surrender.

Data Source: New Zealand CITES Illegal Trade Report 2017 and 2018, provided by Department of Conservation, New Zealand. Graph Source:  Data analysis, summary and graph produced by Gordon Consulting, New Zealand.

Table 3:

*Seizure Records include records of seizure and records of surrender.

Data Source: New Zealand CITES Illegal Trade Report 2017 and 2018, provided by Department of Conservation, New Zealand..Graph Source:  Data analysis, summary and graph produced by Gordon Consulting, New Zealand.

It is a depressing picture and one that exemplifies the truly global extent of the illegal wildlife trade.  On a positive note, New Zealand has introduced an instant infringement fine system for offences relating to the international wildlife trade, which is a useful enforcement tool in addition to prosecution options.  The Government is also due to announce the results of the 2019 review of the Trade in Endangered Species Act, the key national piece of legislation relating to the international trade in endangered species, which included an option to ban New Zealand’s domestic trade in elephant ivory.

Along with regulation and law enforcement, demand reduction strategies form part of the package needed to combat wildlife crime effectively. With such a rich database at its fingertips, the New Zealand Government is well positioned to develop targeted strategies which aim to shift purchasing preference and buyer behaviour away from illegal wildlife products.  Former Prime Minister Helen Clark says, “It is vital that New Zealand strengthens its vigilance against this vile illicit trade, and not become a weak link in the chain of global efforts aimed at stopping it.”

Scanlon urges that we all “finally grasp the nettle with wildlife crime” and recognise the massive impacts wildlife crime has on economies, ecosystems, public and animal health, security, and people.

“The risks of future wildlife-related pandemics are real, and the stakes are high,” he says, “preventing them requires bold reforms to wildlife crime and trade laws. Making these reforms rests with countries. Now is the time to present them with viable options and a broad alliance of organisations has come together to do just that under the banner Global Initiative to End Wildlife Crime.

“I am delighted to Chair the Initiative,” says Scanlon, “which is advocating for and offering technical support to create a new international agreement on wildlife crime and to amend existing international wildlife trade laws to include public health and animal health into decision making.”

The risks of future wildlife-related pandemics can come from unregulated, regulated, and illegal wildlife trade. This is a matter for every nation to be far more cognisant of in the wake of Covid-19.

Published: Journal of African Elephants 


By Fiona Gordon – Director of Gordon Consulting and an Ambassador to the Jane Goodall Institute New Zealand.

The meeting of Parties to the Convention on International trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Geneva this week marks almost 3 years since CITES agreed for the first time in its history that national ivory markets contributing to poaching or illegal trade should be closed.

The historic decision stemmed from grave concerns over continued poaching of elephants for their ivory and the acknowledgement that legal domestic markets provide cover for criminals to launder illegal ivory. Concerns that remain the focus of discussions at CITES Conference of Parties over the next couple of days.

Fortunately, domestic ivory markets are steadily closing. The United States, France, China and the United Kingdom have now closed theirs and Hong Kong is set to follow suit in 2021. Last week Singapore announced it will also close its market – an announcement that came shortly after Singapore authorities made a record haul of 8.8 tonnes of illegal ivory seized in transit between Democratic Republic of the Congo and Vietnam.

Bucking this strong international trend however is New Zealand, whose domestic ivory trade remains devoid of any internal regulations and alarmingly appears to have increased dramatically since 2016.

A recently completed 10 month survey of just two New Zealand auction houses found over 800 ivory items for sale, more than double the number found for sale at four New Zealand auction houses during a 9 month survey reported in 2016.

The number of auctions offering ivory for sale appears to have increased by 60 percent and at one New Zealand auction alone a swathe of ivory carvings disappeared out the door for around NZD $10,000 (USD $6,600).  A large proportion of the ivory items found for sale were entirely made of ivory, including carvings, okimonos and netsukes.

The observed increase in trade adds much weight to the calls of more than 40,000 people in support of campaigns led by the Jane Goodall Institute New Zealand and African Wildlife Foundation asking the New Zealand government to shut its domestic ivory trade down.

“It is  very disturbing to learn of the steep increase in the amount of ivory for sale in New Zealand,” said Former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Former UNDP Administrator, Rt. Honourable Helen Clark,  “I support a ban on its sale along the lines introduced by the Government of the United Kingdom. New Zealand must not be a weak link in international efforts to curb the ivory trade which is responsible for the slaughter of elephants.”

Both auction houses surveyed are registered auctioneers under New Zealand’s Auctioneers Act 2013 which requires records to be maintained, including descriptions of property offered for sale.  Surprisingly, few of the catalogue descriptions for each of the ivory items offered for sale included statements, let alone any verifiable evidence, regarding their age or source.

Any assumption that all ivory on New Zealand’s domestic market must be antique, simply doesn’t hold true either. Two convictions for illegal trade involving thousands of dollars-worth of ivory have already illustrated how illegally imported ivory can easily be traded on New Zealand’s domestic market under the guise of legality.

Further, thousands of elephant ivory carvings, ivory pieces and tusks have been legally imported into New Zealand since the 1989 international trade ban for non-commercial purposes.  Over 60 per cent of these imported ivory items are noted as being sourced from the ‘wild’ or of ‘unknown’ source.  Most of this ivory arrives from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and some from Mozambique or it is re-exported from Great Britain and Australia.

New Zealand’s Department of Conservation confirm that any ivory legally imported after the 1989 ban can legitimately be sold on New Zealand’s domestic market.   Even items specifically imported for non-commercial purposes have no restriction placed on their future sale.

“There is no question that the domestic ivory markets in countries like New Zealand and elsewhere continue to fuel corruption and poor governance, plus the wanton killing of elephants in Africa,” says Kaddu Sebunya, Chief Executive Officer of African Wildlife Foundation.

“There isn’t enough ivory in the world to satisfy current demand”, says Sebunya, “so as long as a market exists for ivory, you can be sure that an elephant somewhere is dying to sustain it. Elephants need their ivory, and the world needs elephants. We, at African Wildlife Foundation, will continue to call for the closure of all ivory markets and to speak up for elephants, which need our protection today more than ever.”

With the reported increased activity on the domestic ivory market, no domestic trade regulations and two convictions for illegal trade in ivory, it remains difficult to see how New Zealand is implementing the CITES 2016 decision urging domestic ivory trade closures.

In a positive move, the New Zealand delegation to the 2018 London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade made a formal commitment to “assess the need for regulation of New Zealand’s domestic ivory trade”.

About the Author:

Fiona Gordon is a New Zealand based environmental policy analyst and an Ambassador to the Jane Goodall Institute New Zealand.  She has undertaken research into the international and domestic ivory trade since 2014. Fiona was principal researcher and co-author of the 2016 report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) “Under the Hammer” which provided the results of the first ever investigation into the nature of the auction house trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn in Australia and New Zealand.


Australia and New Zealand – Letting Elephant and Rhino Down


With a lack of appropriate enforcement tools at the border and unregulated domestic markets, if you manage to get your ivory or rhino horn into New Zealand or Australia, you are home and hosed to make a killing.

Screen Shot 2017-11-23 at 11.41.30 am.png

“Let’s get serious about wildlife crime.” “The future of Elephants is in our hands.” “Listen to the Young Voices.” These annual World Wildlife Day messages were brought home with the conclusion of the inaugural United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) 2016 World Wildlife Crime Report that all regions of the world play a role as a source, transit or destination for contraband wildlife.

The Report called for the introduction of national legislation to regulate the possession, use and sale of the most threatened wildlife products from other parts of the world. It offered potential solutions, including providing customs agents with the right tools to conduct international wildlife crime enforcement. Measures required as part of the multi-faceted strategy to combat wildlife crime, world wide.

Elephants and rhinoceros are our global flag ship species in the fight against international wildlife crime. The Great Elephant Census revealed an alarming 30% decline in Africa’s savanna elephant population over 7 years. Save The Rhino reported best estimates of only 30,000 rhinos survive in the wild at the end of 2015 and that nearly three rhinos were killed every day in South Africa in 2016 alone.

Media reports on ivory and rhino horn seizures and law enforcement focus on key source, transit and consumer nations, and righty so. However other countries are also harbouring the illegal trade.

Notably, the Pacific is increasingly becoming a source and transit region for illegal wildlife trafficking, where trade is “well organized by opportunistic criminal networks and unscrupulous traders”. In the heart of this region, New Zealand and Australia have more recently been implicated in the illegal trade of ivory and rhinoceros horn.

Wildlife seizures at the New Zealand border have more than doubled from 2,268 in 2011 to 5,809 in 2015. From a total of 19,221 seizures, eight prosecutions were brought under New Zealand’s Trade in Endangered Species Act (TIES Act). Two of these prosecutions were for the illegal importation of elephant ivory. No infringement fines were issued.

Australian Customs and Border Protection Services reportedly seize 7,000 wildlife items each year, mostly in the post and passenger environment. Hundreds of seizures of suspected elephant ivory and rhino horn products were made between 2010 and 2016. No infringement fines or prosecutions have been reported for wildlife offences under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Despite the high seizure rates New Zealand and Australia have no infringement fine mechanisms for offences related to the international movement of wildlife specimens. Commendably, in February this year, New Zealand introduced the Conservation (Infringement System) Bill, which will provide for infringement systems to be placed in the Trade in Endangered Species Act.

Border control is clearly the first line of defense. However, as seizures are only ever indicative of the real scale of an illegal trade, domestic regulations must provide the second – to effectively deal with the illegal trade of wildlife items that do slip through. And they do slip through.

A New Zealand man managed to illegally import some 20 ivory items, worth about USD$12,614, before being caught out when an African elephant tusk was detected at the international mail centre. Some of the illegally imported ivory had already been sold on the domestic market.

Australian police seized an estimated USD $63,000 worth of ivory on the domestic market in 2014 and Customs seized 100kg of ivory at Perth airport the following year. No fines or prosecutions in relation to either of these seizures have been reported to date.

The incentives for criminals seeking to launder illegally imported items are obvious. Thousands of ivory products are sold each year in Australia and New Zealand on domestic markets that remain completely unregulated. Ivory can fetch as much as USD $23,600 for a pair of tusks and USD $53,000 for a pair of rhino horns. With no legal requirements for sellers to provide any proof of the origin or age of these products, the vast majority of them are offered for sale without provenance information.

These gaps, in border enforcement and lack of domestic regulations, are precisely the gaps identified in the UNODC Report. In Australia and New Zealand, if you manage to get your ivory or rhino horn into the country, you are home and hosed to make a killing on the domestic market.

For the elephant and rhino, there is no room or time left for any gaps and “we are just a drop in the bucket” inertia. Last year the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) asked all nations with unregulated domestic markets in ivory and rhino horn to close or regulate their markets. A truly global response is being called for. As the two largest parties to CITES in the region, Australia and New Zealand have a clear mandate for action and an obvious opportunity to lead the way on this front.

Read original article: http://www.sabreakingnews.co.za/2017/09/12/australia-and-new-zealand-letting-elephant-and-rhino-down/

Read article at Conservation Action Trust: https://conservationaction.co.za/media-articles/australia-new-zealand-letting-elephant-rhino/