The Border Point Project

April 28th, 2015

Dear Friends of Wildlife,

Every day we read in the newspapers, see on the TV, etc., the latest news about another seizure of wildlife products. It could be ivory going into Thailand; rhino horn going into Vietnam; bear body parts or pangolin scales going into China. While effective wildlife law enforcement in the field – in other words, protecting the living animals where they live is vitally important, as are efforts to reduce demand for these kind of products in consumer countries – the ability of border agencies to identify and intercept illegal wildlife products leaving their country, is also a key factor.

Inevitably, the capacity of an individual country to carry out border checks varies enormously – and even in some of the world’s most affluent countries significant illegal trade occurs. For example, it has been estimated that five tonnes of bushmeat (the meat of wild animals) is intercepted at Charles de Gaulle airport in France every week.

Imagine how challenging securing borders is in parts of Africa!

As a result of a successful bid for funding from the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund, a fund established by DEFRA in 2014, Born Free is working with the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority (EWCA) to implement a Border Point Project in the Horn of Africa in an effort to reduce trafficking of ivory and live animals such as cheetah, caught from the wild and shipped to the Arabian Gulf States as ‘exotic pets’.

You can find out more by going visiting the Born Free website.

In the last few weeks, another three cheetah were intercepted by the authorities and are now at Ensessakotteh, Born Free’s Rescue Centre, outside Addis Ababa. There they will live out the rest of their lives in the best possible circumstances we can provide – their chance of ever going back to the wild and contributing to the survival of their species is very slim.

Born Free hopes that through the Border Point Project and working with EWCA, the police, customs, military, judiciary, municipal officials and airport staff, over 10,000 officials will have a better understanding of both national and international wildlife laws. Armed with that knowledge we hope they will be able clamp down on wildlife crime.

I know that the criminal networks that make a killing trading either live wild animals or their body parts are highly entrepreneurial. I know they will always try to exploit the weakest link. The Ethiopian Border Point Project will make their lives more difficult, reduce levels of criminality – and save the lives of wild animals in the process.

It is just another way that, with your support, Born Free and our partners around the world are making a difference.

Blogging off

Will

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Wednesday 22nd April: The 45th United Nations Global Citizens Earth Day

April 23rd, 2015

What was I doing?  Sitting at Public Hearing to try and prevent potentially devastating oil and gas exploration in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the Surrey Hills above Dorking.  The height of irony.  At a time when a billion people around the world (according to the UN) were thinking about conserving, protecting and nurturing natural environments, we were in a dog-fight over this issue.  The outcome won’t be known for weeks – possibly months – but I hope that common-sense will prevail and that this precious natural area will not be jeopardised for what, at best, might deliver between three to five days hydro-carbon use for the UK.

However, that’s not the only thing we need to pay attention to!

On Sunday 26th April, a fabulous team of athletes (!) will be running the London Marathon for Born Free including our very own Mark Jones.  It is a day when the Nation comes together, considers the plight of those less fortunate (people and animals) and approximately 40,000 put their best foot forward to raise funds for charity.  I am going to make my donation now and I do hope that you will consider showing your support by going to www.bornfree.org.uk/marathon

Blogging off (or should that, in this special week, be jogging off?).

Will

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Non-Human Persons?

April 23rd, 2015

Guest blog from Liz Tyson –Born Free’s consultant on Animals in Entertainment

Judge who granted chimpanzees, Leo and Hercules, “non-human person” status, reconsiders landmark ruling

On Monday, in a first-of-its-kind ruling anywhere in the world, the Manhattan Supreme Court granted an Order to show cause and writ of habeas corpus to two chimpanzees, Leo and Hercules, who are currently being used in biomedical research in the State of New York. The move was heralded as a significant step forward by the organisation which brought the chimps’ case before the court, The Non-Human Rights Project. Then, late yesterday, it was reported that the Judge had explicitly removed the “writ of habeas corpus” from the Order; much to the disappointment of animal advocates around the world.

So, what exactly does all this actually mean?

The principle of habeas corpus is quite simple; it is used when it is believed that the imprisonment of a person is unlawful and calls for that person to be brought before the court to have this point decided, one way or another.

Being granted writ of habeas corpus does not guarantee that the person in question will be set free, but it does allow for the case to be considered. The individual will then be released only if the court rules that the ongoing detention is unlawful and cannot be legally justified.

In recent years, animal advocates have attempted to use the principle of habeas corpus to challenge the imprisonment of non-human animals. Cases involving whales held in captivity, primates used in laboratories and, most recently, an orang-utan in an Argentinian zoo have all been brought before the courts, with varying degrees of success.

Most of the applications have been rejected by the courts but, in December last year, an orang-utan named Sandra who lives in an Argentinian zoo was allegedly granted writ of habeas corpus. However, on closer reading of the court judgment, legal experts were not convinced that this was in fact the court’s intention and Sandra currently remains in the zoo.

In contrast to the Argentinian case, yesterday’s ruling was initially clear: the legality of the ongoing imprisonment of the chimps will now be examined by the court and, if found that it is not legally justified, Leo and Hercules will be freed and transferred to a sanctuary where their needs can be better provided for.

But animals are transferred from labs to sanctuaries, from zoos to sanctuaries and from circuses to sanctuaries fairly regularly, so why is this particular case so important?

You might have noticed that habeas corpus applies to “persons”; a term that we normally associate with humans.  And it is this small word which may have made the world of difference; not just for Leo and Hercules, but for non-human animals all over the world.

In issuing the writ of habeas corpus, the court appeared to have recognised both Leo and Hercules as “persons”, and “persons” are generally recognised as having certain basic rights under the law. These include the right to bodily integrity and the right to liberty. Until this point, non-human animals had only ever been recognised as “property”; legally speaking classed as “things” rather than living, breathing, feeling individuals.  Sadly, it is the habeas corpus part of the Order which has now been reconsidered and removed; leaving advocates uncertain as to whether Leo and Hercules are indeed being considered “legal persons” or if the judge has had second thoughts on the potentially far-reaching implications of the original ruling.

Monday’s ruling in its original form had the potential to pave the way for the legal status of animals to change dramatically and, with it, shift the boundaries of how we humans can use animals for our own purposes. For example, a chimpanzee with personhood status could not be subjected to painful experiments while an orca with personhood status could not be held captive for entertainment in a small tank for his or her lifetime. The implications of recognising non-human animals as “persons” are huge, but it remains to be seen whether or not, in either its original or amended form, the Order will have the impact that animal advocates hope.

What is clear is that Leo and Hercules, whether recognised as “persons” or not, will have their day in court as the institution holding them still has to present just cause to the court, as originally ordered. It may be that, in practice, the exclusion of the habeas corpus element of the order has very little impact on what remains a landmark case in legal history. For now, we will be watching developments with great interest and we heartily congratulate all those involved in this important process.

Liz

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Spring in our step

April 7th, 2015

So, although it is months away, I am already preparing for the Maidstone Fun Run (yes, I know it is not the Marathon!) in August.

Top Born Free supporter, Anneka Svenska (@AnnekaSvenska) and I will be blasting round the 5km course in double-quick time (or not!).  Of course, it is the perfect opportunity for you to join us and raise additional funds for Born Free and we can have a good old chat as we jog round! More information on how and where you can Fun Run for Born Free

Seriously, I have just returned from my fantastic sports physio, Helen King (www.firstclasstherapies.co.uk) and she is determined to sort out my bad back and make sure the run is enjoyable.  From here on, I will be building up on a weekly basis until I am as fit as the proverbial flea!

But I am not the only one who has got running on the brain.

Mark Jones, Born Free’s Programmes Manager Wildlife Policy,  and a stellar team of athletes, supporters and friends will be running the London Marathon on 26th  April and I know that they would love to have your support as they grind out the 26+ miles.  You can show them the love by going to http://www.bornfree.org.uk/get-involved/running/london-marathon/.

Hats off to Mark and the rest.  I have done the London Marathon and it is certainly not a challenge for the fainthearted!

So, as the sun comes out, our ‘plimsolls’ come on (yes I know, trainers) so why not join us and put your best foot forward for animals.

Blogging off

Will

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Cause for Hope or Missed Opportunity?

March 27th, 2015

I’ve been to many international wildlife meetings over the years – perhaps too many. You either leave with head low, despairing at the lack of action, or with a sense of optimism that things are actually getting better.

So it was at the Kasane Meeting on Illegal Wildlife Trade and Elephant Protection that just ended at the Cresta Safari Resort on the banks of the Zambezi. I feel that perhaps there is cause for optimism. Why?

Countries are doing something (at last)!

Ivory stockpiles – a relentless temptation to trade – are being destroyed or will soon be. Ethiopia and Kenya’s Ivory burns, which took place over the last couple of weeks, will be followed by Malawi, Uganda and the UAE.

Enforcement efforts are improving – no doubt helped by significant German financial support, the forensic training of hundreds of rangers in Botswana, sponsored by the Netherlands, and better border security in hotspots like Ethiopia thanks to Born Free and the UK government’s Wildlife Challenge Fund.

Open admission at the meeting that corruption plays a major role in facilitating illegal trade was explicit and countries lined up to pledge additional support for the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC). Furthermore, the meeting made clear its intentions to apply anti-money-laundering protocols (wildlife crime now to be designated a ‘predicate offense’) and to include measures which permit the sequestration of assets, so criminals don’t get away with it.

The setting up of the Transport Task Force under the leadership of the UK’s former Foreign Secretary, William Hague, will bring far more attention to the transport links and weaknesses in shipping security which currently make it all too easy for wildlife products, including ivory, to be smuggled with relative impunity.

Vietnam and China, so often painted in a very unfavourable light by the international community and the media alike when it comes to wildlife trade-related issues,  announced improved enforcement effort, increased public education programmes to reduce demand and extensive further reviews of internal trade controls (although falling short of the outright prohibition of domestic ivory trade in China, that so many, including Born Free, are calling for).

But, make no mistake, the situation remains grave, indeed desperate.

Over 1,200 rhino poached in South Africa in 2014 alone.

Nearly 90 wild tigers confirmed poached in that same year.

Real decline in elephant populations which, at best, may be 470,000 across the entire Continent (with 130,000 of those – or 30% – found in Botswana).

Recognition that massive, out of control illegal trade in little-known animals such as pangolins (also known as ‘scaly anteaters’) may be driving the 8 species towards extinction.

However, while there were the positives, of some concern, from my point of view, was the lacklustre contribution made by a number of technical delegates, the organisations and people that countries turn to for the facts. Their contributions were confused, inconsistent and there are still major gaps in the data which, after all this time and all this money, you would have thought they would have nailed. Maybe we make it all too complicated and when it gets too complicated decisions are hard to make.

To me, it is simple.

There are too many of us and too few of them (however you define them – elephants, rhino , lions, tigers, etc.) for us any longer to think we can try to justify our continued terminal exploitation of so many species by dressing it up as ‘sustainable use’. My view is we need to regard these species – maybe they should be called World Heritage Species – as a precious part of our common inheritance and we should, as a matter of obligation, provide the resources for their future protection and conservation (and the wild lands they need in order to flourish) regardless of whether we can ‘make them pay their way’.

Just as when, as nations, we invest in admiring and conserving great works of art for the common good of humanity, and are appalled when they are wantonly destroyed, so we should regard the living treasures of our natural world – and make the resources available to so discharge our responsibility for their long term survival.

Kasane may mark a watershed. Stimulated by the London Conference in February 2014, nations may have discovered that they care a bit more than they thought, can do more than they’d had originally intended – and are willing to be held to account for their actions.

The next meeting will be in Vietnam. That is when we will truly discover whether our new and increasingly global efforts to end wildlife crime, and bring security to threatened wildlife species and the fragile human communities that they live alongside, will have made the difference we – and the wildlife we care about – need to see.

Blogging off

Will Travers

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How long does it take to fix the global poaching epidemic?

March 24th, 2015

Twenty five years ago I joined a throng of young activists, conservationists, investigators and journalists outside La Grande Salle in the Lausanne Conference Centre in Switzerland and waited for the verdict. Would the world ban the international, commercial ivory trade – or blink?

The decision to ban the trade was made and, at the time, we all thought this would lead to a far more secure future for wild elephants.

I thought it might also be the precursor to better times for other species under threat, iconic species such as tigers and rhino.

So why, in February 2014, did the UK Government and Princes Charles and William feel the need to host a crisis meeting on Wildlife Trafficking, seeking the agreement of the international community to a raft of urgent measures to try and halt the bloody slaughter that has been visited on these and other species over the last decade or more?

It could have been because of the now widely-accepted links between international crime and the brutal activities of militia groups and the illegal wildlife trade. It could have been because the numbers were now simply too devastating to ignore (10,000 elephants poached each year in Tanzania alone). It could have been because of the growing anxiety, distress and outrage expressed by people all over the world on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

But whatever the reason, the London Summit, as it has become known, managed to secure the agreement of a number of key countries which signed the London Declaration, committing them, amongst other actions, to:

  1. Eradicate the market for illegal wildlife products
  2. Ensure Effective Legal Frameworks and Deterrents to combat wildlife trafficking
  3. Promote sustainable livelihoods and economic development, as a means of eradicating the illegal trade in wildlife.

Just over a year later, how does the scorecard look?

If we consider the three species highlighted at the London Summit:

The latest intelligence indicates that elephant poaching continues unabated. Zimbabwe’s elephant population is down 10,000 from the 2001 census. Rumours abound that elephant numbers in key Tanzanian Parks and Reserves are massively depleted. Mali may be on the verge of losing all its elephants. Small, fragile populations in Central and West African countries teeter on the brink of annihilation. On the demand side of the equation, in February 2015 China introduced a one-year ban on the import of some categories of ivory products, although the scope of the measure appears to be very limited.

In 2014, South Africa lost 1,215 rhino to poachers (up by over 200 animals from the previous record year). The situation may get even worse if that country continues to pursue its increasingly controversial and discredited plans to legalise rhino horn trade.

Reports from India indicate that wild tiger populations may be starting to recover in some areas, although poaching and illegal trade persist across much of the tiger’s range, in spite of the several hundred million dollars injected into the Global Tiger Recovery Plan in recent years.

Other species such as lions, recently declared ‘threatened’ by the highly-respected United States Fish and Wildlife Service, are under relentless and unsustainable pressure across much of their range (so much so that the EU has suspended lion trophy imports from Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and Cameroon).

Whichever way you slice it, the results are deeply troubling. A follow-up meeting to the London Summit is due to take place in Kasane, Botswana, on March 25th. The key question facing delegates is simple: has the global response since the London Summit turned the tide and, if not, what do we need to do now?

In my view there are five key actions.

Firstly, stop pussy-footing around when it comes to wildlife law enforcement. Train and equip rangers and pay them properly. At the same time invest in innovative detection and infiltration strategies to disrupt and dismember the poaching and smuggling networks.

Secondly, evaluate and, where necessary, overhaul national legislation, in consultation with other countries to ensure deterrent, custodial tariffs for wildlife crime of consistent severity apply across borders so that there is no ‘soft touch’ for convicted criminals.

Thirdly, implement a complementary suite of legal sanctions to ensure that crime doesn’t pay and criminals do. Sequestrate their assets, confiscate their houses, clear out their bank accounts – make sure anyone aiding and abetting wildlife crime runs a high risk of losing everything.

Fourthly, prevail upon countries that are the end-user markets for wildlife products to declare that all trade – including legal trade where it is currently exists – in high value items from threatened or endangered species is banned. Agree that there will be no more exemptions for antiques or articles that were acquired before the species was listed by CITES. Close the loopholes, strangle the trade, choke the demand.

Finally, given the potentially damaging nature of illegal wildlife trade on social stability, public health, economic development and national and regional security in many countries – not to mention its direct impact on vulnerable wildlife populations – we need to link development aid to measures aimed at combatting illegal wildlife trade. In this way we can help deliver greater security to remote communities, increasingly threatened by insurgent militias such as Al Shebab and Boko Haram, a factor recognised by both the British and US Governments and set out in Born Free USA’s recent reports Ivory’s Curse and Out of Africa.

The funds currently committed to tackling illegal wildlife trade represent a tiny fraction of countries’ international development budgets. The UK has given £10 million so far but our overseas aid budget alone stands at £12.2 billion. These substantial resources, if carefully applied, can have a powerful, positive influence and help reduce wildlife trafficking, while bringing life-changing social, economic and conservation benefits to some of the world’s most disenfranchised communities.

The Kasane meeting provides an opportunity for delegates to review the state-of-play, assess the impact of actions taken so far, and identify those actions that still need to be implemented. It also provides an opportunity to encourage key countries, such as South Africa, Thailand and India – that were not signatories to the London Declaration – to ‘step up’ and be counted.

Twenty five years ago I was in Switzerland. On the 25th of March I will be in Kasane and once again the world will be watching.

Blogging off,

Will

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Whalefest 2015 is over – or is it?

March 19th, 2015

The incredible buzz of the 10,000 – 15,000 people who turned up at the Brighton Centre over the weekend still lingers and may well sustain me through to Whalefest 2016!

It really was something special, from the graveyard of cetacean crosses on the beach to the Whale Tails, to the fabulous presentations by an inspiring cast of passionate conservationists and animal protectionists (Steve Backshall, Ric O’Barry, Adrienne Wandel, Michaela Strachan, Gordon Buchanan, Monty Halls, John Hargrove, Mark Brownlow, Captain Paul Watson, Steve Greenwood, James Brickell, Simon Pickup, Daniel Turner) and hats off to Ian and Dylan who created this extraordinary event.

Then there were all the stallholders representing companies that care and charities that campaign and every one of them fully participating in the biggest event of its kind in the world.

Some of the highlights for me were the Question Time debate hosted by Donal MacIntyre with Norman Baker MP (LibDem), Graham Cox (Con), Caroline Lucas MP (Green), Angela Smith MP (Lab).; the panel discussion about the future of captive dolphins and dolphinaria; the stories from the frontline as told by Ric O’Barry and others (what an honour to interview Ric!) and who could forget the pro-captivity banner that suddenly materialised in the main auditorium as John Hargrove was telling his story or the two clearly planted individuals who tried to assassinate his character and good-standing!

No-one ever said this was going to be easy but as I said in my presentation, it is not a question of if the keeping of cetacean in captivity will end, it is simply a question of when.

So, if you went to Whalefest 2015, I hope that you had as brilliant a time as I had and if you did not then I would suggest you book early for next year.

I should end by thanking the Born Free team who put their heart and soul into supporting this extraordinary festival.  So hats off to them as well.

Blogging off

Will

Sign our pledge to avoid visiting captive dolphin facilities

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A letter from Nicky Campbell

March 11th, 2015

Hi All,

This week, rather than words from me, I thought it vitally important to reprint a letter from my good friend, journalist and wildlife champion Nicky Campbell to Deyu Miao, from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, London.

It is a powerful and heartfelt appeal to China to take a bold, principled and compassionate leadership approach to the bloody ivory trade that is steadily wiping elephants from the face of the earth. As a journalist, Nicky asks some searching questions. I hope he gets the answers.

Best and blogging off

Will

From Nicky Campbell:

Your Excellency,

I read your letter to the Guardian (Friday 6th March) about the ivory trade with huge interest. As a journalist, if I were ever to have the privilege of interviewing you, these are some of the questions I would ask.

Do you agree that as long as China insists on permitting such a high value and valuable ‘legal’ trade, there will always be a flourishing illegal trade? To what extent does this lucrative illegal trade contribute to the rapid decline of elephants in the wild? Is limiting and regulating any highly sought after product sustainable in an ever-expanding 10 trillion pound consumer economy? Do you acknowledge that the majority of Africa’s illegal ivory ends up in China?

You say the whole process scale is subject to the toughest regulatory and monitoring measures. If that is the case then why are new carving factories opening all the time?

Do you agree that elephants are self–aware, highly complex social beings with an extraordinarily wide range of emotions? If so, you are in line with every scientist and researcher working in this field. Have you ever seen an elephant mourn its dead?

You talk of China’s ‘intangible cultural heritage’ of ivory carving. With all we now know about elephants, is this cultural heritage morally justified? How can it be justified, given that whatever its scale, it entails the slaughter of sentient and now endangered animals? Why should it not, like so many other ‘intangible cultural heritages’ the world over, become a relic of history?

If a far away country, had a cultural heritage involved panda skin accessories, would you be happy if that country were to argue for a ‘limited’ legal trade (with the inevitable parallel illegal trade) or would you be prevailing upon them to put an end to the practice? If the Chinese government were to impose a complete ban on ivory, how do you think the world would react?

Lastly Sir, to what I really do feel is the most important question of all. If you answer none of the others please do address this one. Which to your mind is more beautiful – a family of elephants by a watering hole at sunset, safe from the Kalashnikov and chainsaw, or an ivory ornament?

Nicky Campbell

Read about Born Free’s work to fight the Ivory Trade

Find out more about the illegal ivory trade supply chain

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World Wildlife Day got people thinking and doing!

March 4th, 2015

The second World Wildlife Day got people thinking and doing! I call it a success.

WWD2 touched millions of people around the world and stimulated some amazing activities – large and small.

In Kenya, the President, Uhuru Kenyatta, torched 15 tonnes of ivory (that’s the remains of around 2,000+ elephants) and promised that the rest of Kenya’s substantial ivory stockpile would be destroyed by the end of the year.  Amazing!

That has sent the most powerful smoke-signal to the rest of the world that it is time to make the ivory trade history – new ivory, old ivory, carved ivory, raw ivory – ALL IVORY.

In the UK, former Minister, Norman Baker MP, along with his band The Reform Club, released an EP entitled Animal Countdown, which is his contribution to raising awareness about the plight of some of the world’s most iconic species. His message: if we don’t do something fast, they could disappear on our watch.

Around the country and, indeed, around the world, Born Free supporters wore their Born Free Wildlife Ribbons with pride.  They took photos, they sent in selfies, they raised their voices and made a difference.  You can still buy a Ribbon.

But here’s the thing.  We should not just focus our attention on the plight of wildlife on one single day a year – World Wildlife Day, good though that is.  We have to make sure that we are doing something to protect and conserve wildlife – and reducing wild animal suffering – EVERY SINGLE DAY OF THE YEAR! That’s the Born Free Foundation’s Compassionate Conservation agenda.

So, as they say in the movies, ‘Two thumbs-up’ for the UN’s World Wildlife Day but let’s – each and every one of us – start by making wildlife a feature in our busy lives, not a ‘once a year’ exception.

Blogging off

Will

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China announces 1 year ban on ivory imports – does it stack up?

February 27th, 2015

Every day something new! The Chinese Government has introduced a one year, temporary ivory import ban… Sounds good – but is it?

All imports of new tusks and pieces are banned anyway.

It is unclear what imports this will directly impact. It could be the limited number of small ivory carvings known as ‘ekipas’ which can be legally exported from Namibia. It could be the kilo or so of ivory that Zimbabwe (bizarrely) allows people to export.

However, there is no confirmation that I can find stating that this will prevent the import of what is known as ‘Pre-Convention’ ivory, ivory that can be established to have been sourced prior to African elephants being listed on the CITES Appendices (so about 1976). And I also can’t yet determine whether the ban will apply to antique ivory carvings (usually certified as pre-1949).

So, in the absence of hard facts I can only assume that the impact of this ban will be very, very limited indeed!

However, it does suggest that China is listening, even if the measures needed are far more significant.

And it does make me think that now is the time for all countries to take a brave but vital step and close down their domestic ivory markets. There are huge volumes of ivory sold domestically in the USA, in Europe and in countries such as China and Thailand. The single, most powerful signal that, as a species, we are DONE with ivory, would be to shut down all markets, international and domestic, for all ivory, new, old, carved, raw… ALL IVORY.

Then we can all truly get on with the vital business of protecting elephants and the many other beleaguered species whose fate hangs so precariously in the balance.

Blogging off

Will

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