Saturday, July 21, 2018

Can Climate Change Have a Profound Impact on Migration Patterns of Birds?

A group of barnacle geese

There are several different species of migrating birds in the world and all of them carry out their epic seasonal journeys in various corners of the world. Each species has its own flight pattern; the most common pattern involves flying north in the spring to breed during the summer in the Arctic Circle and returning in the fall to wintering grounds in the southern regions. One such bird that conducts this kind of migratory pattern is the barnacle goose. Every spring, barnacle geese make an epic 1,800-mile long journey from northern Germany and the Netherlands to their breeding grounds in parts of Russia above the Arctic Circle. According to Dr. Bart Nolet of the University of Amsterdam and the Netherlands Institute of Ecology, the journey normally takes about a month and the birds make several stops to eat and fatten up laying their eggs. However, that migration pattern is changing due to dramatic rise in temperatures which have contributed to early springs in the Arctic. Dr. Nolet's team tracked several geese to understand how they are being affected by the earlier snow melts. Their results were published in a study in Current Biology. The one thing that has not changed is what time of year the birds start flying south. Dr. Nolet stated that they leave their wintering grounds "around the same date regardless of whether it's early or late spring in the Arctic." It is possibly because the geese "cannot predict what the weather is or what the season is up there from 3,000 kilometers distance."
Migration route of barnacle geese with wintering grounds (blue), stopover sites (yellow and diagonal grid), and breeding grounds (red).

The geese historically used to arrive just after the melting of snow and lay their eggs right away. This gives plants time to grow so that the goslings can benefit from what is known as a "food peak." But lately, the weather in parts of the birds' migratory route in the north is warmer than it used to be making them realize they are running late and are therefore forced to speed up. This month-long journey has been reduced to a week-long migratory marathon with geese flying almost non-stop from their wintering grounds to breeding grounds. Although the geese make up time on the way, they could not lay their eggs right away because they need time to rebound and forage which could take some ten more days. Dr. Nolet says that means the goslings are unable to enjoy the "food peak." That is, once the eggs hatch, the food is already degenerating in quality, and what Dr. Nolet and his team found was that goslings "survive less well in such an early ear than they do normally." He further added that the reason the geese do not set off earlier for their northbound journey is because they probably take their cue to depart based on how long daytime hours last, instead of the temperature some 1,800 miles away. Fortunately, the barnacle goose is a "flexible" species that flies in groups, meaning when few start departing early, others would follow.
Barnacle goose family in Sweden

I find this to be a clear indication of how climate change can have a profound impact on wild animals and why it should be taken very seriously. Most people generally think of climate change as melting of polar ice in vast quantities, which threatens the wildlife in the North Pole as well as the livelihood of the local population. But that is not always the case; climate change can impact the world's wildlife in a number of ways. One of the ways is shown here about how increase in temperature can influence the migration pattern of various bird species like barnacle geese. Even though barnacle geese are described as a "flexible" species when it comes to migrating in the midst of climate change, that is not always the case with other birds. For instance, shorebirds find changing climate problematic which Dr. Nolet describes as "having to do with the mismatch between food peak and hatching of eggs." In short, the rise in temperatures in the Arctic results in birds like barnacle geese out of sync with their favorite food sources. This, in turn, also results in fewer chicks surviving their early months. I firmly believe that the study conducted by Dr. Nolet and his team should be taken into serious consideration in an effort to prevent climate change from further impacting the behavior of barnacle geese and other migratory birds. These animals' migration pattern is being affected to the point where fewer offspring could survive and if no action is taken, then it can certainly result in such species falling to the brink of extinction.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Expert Recommendation is Highly Essential in Saving India's Wildlife

Indian elephants

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has recently concluded an array of measurements, in order to reduce instances of human-wildlife conflict and electrocution of animals. These measures include establishing a task force, releasing advisories to states to facilitate notification of elephant corridors and adjustment of road projects to expedite uninterrupted movement of animals. The action is the result of an order by the Supreme Court delivered to the ministry and the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) in January in response to a petition by wildlife biologist Vidya Athreya. In her petition, Dr. Athreya included an array of suggestions to better the ground situation. In February, the NBWL set up a six-member expert task force to analyze the proposals on human-wildlife conflict, safeguarding of elephant corridors to reduce conflict, wildlife deaths by electrocution, and recovery plans for the great Indian bustard. Based on a report by the task force, the NBWL made final suggestions in its last meeting on June 13 that the ministry should direct state governments to safeguard animal corridors through land acquisition or by announcing such corridors as eco-sensitive zones because of difficulties in land acquisition. The ministry, on the other hand, has also decided it may consider forming a panel in partnership with the Central Electricity Authority, Power Grid Corporation India Ltd, the power ministry, and wildlife experts to discuss measurements that will prevent electrocution of wildlife by transmission lines. On human-wildlife conflict, Dr. Athreya recommended that the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change should take up a comprehensive approach consisting of extensive studies on ecological and sociological views of conflict, giving conflict management training to forest officials and standard operating procedures (SOPs) to manage wildlife conflict, among other things. The ministry indicated that it will send advisories to states on establishing SOPs for other species besides tigers and leopards that are in the midst of human-wildlife conflict. Furthermore, the expert panel and NBWL indicated that infrastructure development agencies and concerned ministries should make mandatory adjustments in designs of current roads in order to minimize wildlife fatalities on the roads.
The great Indian bustard is threatened by the installment of renewable energy power lines in its natural habitat.

I feel very glad and hopeful that the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and NBWL have acted upon the order issued by the Supreme Court in reference to the petition filed by Dr. Vidya Athreya. Much of India's wildlife is and continues to be under threat from the development and expansion of man-made projects. This is especially true for critically endangered species like the great Indian bustard, whose numbers have been decimated dramatically due to the installment of renewable energy power lines in its natural habitat and is teetering on the brink of extinction. Unless serious action is taken, this magnificent bird will completely fade into history. I believe it is highly crucial that various state governments and ministries should take advisories provided by the MoEFCC and the NBWL very seriously, in order to tackle human-wildlife conflict and other issues related to the endangerment of India's wildlife. I also firmly believe that the country's political organizations and state governments should seriously consider Dr. Athreya's recommendation on tackling human-wildlife conflict. Not only does it include comprehensive studies on scientific views of the conflict, but sociological views as well. In addition, the training and SOPs provided are guaranteed to help keep both people and wildlife safe. In order to save India's wildlife and wildlife of other countries, it is extremely essential to consider and follow suggestions provided by experts who specialize in relationships between people and wildlife.

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Sunday, July 8, 2018

South Africa's Rhino Poachers "Poached!"

A pride of African lions

South Africa has long been and continues to be hit hard by the poaching of rhinos to feed the growing demand of rhino horns in Asia. Every national park, including the famous Kruger National Park, and game reserve has become a subject of raids by poachers who are members of well-organized criminal organizations that operate the illicit and lucrative rhino horn trade. But recently, in Sibuya Game Reserve, a group of six rhino poachers unexpectedly ran into a pride of lions which were able to kill and eat them before they could do anything. News of this sudden and unusual demise of poachers came one Monday morning when an anti-poaching patrol dog alerted its handler of a nearby commotion coming from the big cats. According to the reserve's owner, Nick Fox, a skull was found in the area along with "half of a pelvis." He further added that he was not sure how many people entered the reserve and how many were killed, three sets of shoes and gloves found at the scene indicating that one person escaped. Authorities also recovered the poachers' tools, which consisted of a high-powered rifle, a silencer, a blood-stained ax to chop off a rhino's horn, and a wire-cutter which the men allegedly used to enter the game reserve. Mr. Fox indicated that the men had planned to set up camp in the reserve and track the rhinos. According to Captain Mali Govender, a police spokeswoman, the remains from the reserve have been sent for forensic testing. The rifle has been sent to a ballistics laboratory "to establish if it has been used in any other poaching or crimes." It is believed that six lions have been involved in this encounter and have been tranquilized so that authorities could examine the scene. At the same time, they were studied by veterinarians and conservation workers who concluded that the big cats' behavior towards them in a game-viewing vehicle was the same as ten years before. Mr. Fox indicated that the lions see people in a game-viewing vehicle as something completely different from people on foot. He further added that game guides and anti-poaching personnel have continued to drive vehicles in the proximity of the lions in the last few days to see if there was any difference in their behavior and there was none.

I'm in both shock and awe that a group of rhino poachers unexpectedly fell victim to a pride of lions. It was an accidental case of hunters becoming the hunted. However, I also see this incident as an indication about how karma plays a crucial role in an individual's life. These men were poachers and their life revolved around ruthlessly slaughtering rhinos and other endangered species for a living and they payed a steep price for their actions by being mauled to death and subsequently eaten by lions putting an end to their illegal activities. I was also amazed by Mr. Fox's explanation about the reason behind the lions' behavior towards people when they are in a vehicle and when they are on foot. The lions of Sibuya Game Reserve do not see people in a vehicle as a threat, as opposed to ones on foot. Due to thick forest and dense bush, people can only view wild animals from vehicles. But the poachers were on foot, thus making them an unexpected target. In addition, the incident took place at night which means the men could not see the lions until it was too late. Even though it was a huge relief for Mr. Fox and the game staff that none of the rhinos were killed, I still firmly believe that it is crucial to stay vigilant for poachers because they will learn from their mistakes even when some of their kind were killed by lions or other wild animals. In addition, I believe it is important to keep a close watch on lions at the Sibuya Game Reserve and keep checking for any differences in their behavior because once they have tasted human blood there is a possibility they might turn to man-eating.

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An Opportunity to Release Red Wolves into the Wild

A pair of captive red wolves behind Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge Red Wolf Education and Health Care Facility.  

The Department of the Interior recently proposed a plan that would allow private landowners in North Carolina to kill red wolves that stray onto their property from Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. The proposal was presented last week by U.S Fish and Wildlife officials at a news conference, who stated that the wildlife refuge would be the only safe place for the red wolves. According to Leopoldo Miranda, assistant director for ecological services in the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service's Southeast region, the goal would be to effectively manage a small population of 10-15 wolves at the wildlife refuge to conserve their genetic value and wild behaviors in hopes that a more proper location outside eastern North Carolina can be found to relocate the wolves. Although he refused to name areas in consideration, Mr. Miranda added that the process of finding an area and guaranteeing an agreement to relocate wolves would probably take three years. The proposal has inflamed anger amongst conservationists who have long argued that the Interior's management of red wolves in recent years deceived the mission to protect them. A public meeting is scheduled for July 10 in Manteo and a public comment period beginning Wednesday will finish at the end of August. If the proposal goes into effect in November, up to 24 red wolves outside Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge would be left to fend for themselves or likely be shot legally by hostile landowners. Two years ago, before a federal court halted the Fish and Wildlife Service from distributing permits to shoot red wolves, the agency received about 400 from property owners to kill them.
Red wolf

I can never think of anything more miserable and cruel than a proposal that would further bring the red wolf towards extinction. But what really frustrates me is that there are more red wolves in captivity (200 to be exact) than there are in the wild. What is taking so long to reintroduce the vast majority of captive wolves back into the wild? Is the federal government calling all the shots when it comes to conservation of America's wildlife, especially of critically endangered species like red wolves? Two years ago, conservation groups sent a petition with half a million names demanding the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service to do more to save the wolves. But there still has not been any change. I urge the Department of the Interior to reconsider its proposal about red wolf management in North Carolina and allow for the reintroduction of red wolves in protected areas throughout North Carolina and other parts of the Southeastern U.S. I also urge that private landowners in North Carolina be educated about the importance of saving red wolves and why shooting them in cold blood will not make a change for the better. Furthermore, I urge the Fish and Wildlife Service to take the petition filed by conservation groups into consideration and act upon it. If no such action is taken, then the current generation of American people will end up seeing the red wolf rapidly fade into history and the next generation will never see a single red wolf roaming freely in the wilds of the South. The red wolf is part of America's wild and natural heritage and in order ensure it stays that way, it should be protected by any means necessary.

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Thursday, June 28, 2018

Silence and Neglect Will No Longer be Tolerated in the Battle to Save the Great Indian Bustard

Great Indian bustard

A great Indian bustard recently died as a result of of hitting a high-tension wire at Ramdeora enclosure in Rajasthan's Jaisalmer district, making it the fourth bustard to have died in this way in the last one year. The death of this bustard has been attributed to the silence and carelessness of the authorities, which irritated wildlife enthusiasts and prompting them to climb up a high-tension wire pole to voice their protest. They eventually came down after a lot of persuasion. A wildlife enthusiast named Radheyshyam Pemani was the first to reach the spot where the bird had died and informed the authorities. The bird was found lying dead just 100 meters away from the high-tension wire pole it had hit while flying at night. According to Ashok Mehria, Deputy Conservator of Forests in Desert National Park, the bustard must have collided with the wires because of rains on Tuesday night. He further added that doctors were called on the spot, post-mortem was carried out, and the bird's body was disposed of. A report will disclose the bustard's death, but at first sight appears to have died after hitting the high-tension wires.
Bustard pair in Desert National Park, one of the last strongholds for this magnificent bird

Y.S Jhala, a senior scientist from the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), stated that bustards were killed last year in three separate incidents after which the state government of Rajasthan demanded to install bird diverters in the birds' flight zone and two meetings were held with the Chief Minister, but till now, no action has been taken. He further added that the government should have done this work at the earliest by giving guidance to its officers and delay will only lead to the bustards' extinction. Rajasthan chief wildlife warden G.V Reddy affirming this said it is an urgent issue. He indicated that a letter was sent to the electricity department earlier demanding it to put bird diverters in the flight zone of the bustard, but the department did not take any action in this regard. He further added that another has been written to the department in this regard and it also included that if the work has not begun, then the forest department under the wildlife protection act will take action. Once again, the electricity department did not take the letter seriously and has not given any reply so far. Now, the forest department is going to write a letter as final reminder to the electricity company. As far as putting high-tension wire underground in bustard flight zone, it is impossible at present and huge amount will be needed, which is also not possible.
View of sand dunes in Desert National Park

It deeply hurts me and enrages me to see that there has not been any action taken to save the great Indian bustard from extinction. Despite all the letters being sent to windmill companies and the electricity department on a repeated basis, no action has been taken by these establishments which goes to show that they are not taking the matter seriously by putting up bird diverters to prevent further loss of these magnificent birds. Silence and neglect is pushing the great Indian bustard closer and closer to extinction and that is something which will no longer be tolerated from here on. I urge the government of Rajasthan to take this issue seriously and act upon it at earliest without any sort of delay. The great Indian bustard is the state bird of Rajasthan and losing it to extinction at present will result in the state losing a significant portion of its culture and heritage. This also means that the new generation would never see a wild, free-roaming bustard in Rajasthan or anywhere in India. I urge the electricity department and windmill companies operating in Rajasthan to seriously act upon this issue and follow the suggestions requested by the forest department. Otherwise, wildlife enthusiasts and officials will be forced to take the windmill and electricity companies to court. I repeat...silence and negligence will NO LONGER BE TOLERATED!!!! The great Indian bustard is in dire need of help and it is time that the government should start acting upon it at the request of wildlife officials and the public.

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Sunday, June 10, 2018

Illegal Lion Shows in Gir Forest are Unacceptable

Asiatic lioness

The Asiatic lion has been dubbed by local people and the media as the "Pride of Gujarat." However, having such a significant title has also made it a victim of harassment by local people in its homeland. This was seen in a recent case of a video that went viral on Wednesday showing seven people harassing a lioness while celebrating in a farm in the Gir Somnath district. The video showed two people, one of them holding a hen, provoking the lioness standing only a few feet away from him. The man repeatedly harassed the lioness by pretending to throw the hen, even as she watched helplessly. At one point, his friend asked him to make the lioness roar. When the lioness came closer, the man boastfully told his friend that this is a regular routine and that the lioness is not scared of them. He even shooed the lioness for a couple seconds and talked with his friends about how this was the third hen being fed to her that day. The video also showed a woman cooking for the seven friends, who warned not to aggravate the lioness for fear that she may attack. Finally, the man threw the hen and the lioness grabbed it and disappeared into the field behind the seven friends. The seven friends were arrested from the village last month. According to Chief Conservator of Forests D.T Vasavada, because harassing the lions with food and making them come so close has become a routine, the animals might be used to getting food in this way. This was not the only incident of harassing lions in Gir Forest; another had occurred on May 19 in which seven people, including four tourists from Ahmedabad, were caught in the act while watching an illegal lion show in the Babaria range. The tourists had stayed at a farmhouse near Gir Forest and planned the show in the village of Jakhiya in the Gir Somnath district.
Gir Forest

I cannot think of anything more appalling and loathsome than using Gujarat's lions as "performers" for public entertainment in their native homeland. These animals are highly regarded as symbols of Gujarat's heritage and have long been part of India's history and culture from the Lion Capital of Ashoka to Narasimha. Even Bharat Mata, the national personification of India, is often depicted with a lion by her side. How can an animal of such charisma be subjected to harassment for public entertainment? I believe that it is absolutely necessary to address this issue of illegal lion shows in order to raise public awareness and act upon it. The public needs to be educated about the importance of lions in Gujarat and India and that planning such performances is unacceptable and dangerous. There is always a possibility that harassing lions with food can turn them into man-eaters and may result in the animals giving up hunting their natural prey like deer, antelope, and wild pig. When this happens theoretically, who can you blame? The lions or the people? This is why it is essential to enforce strict rules against lion shows in Gir Forest and anybody caught committing such dangerous and loathsome antics should be punished significantly to send a message to other people.

View article and video here                

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Can Cross-fostering Help in Mexican Wolf Conservation?

A week-old Mexican wolf pup after arriving in Albuquerque, New Mexico

The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service recently stated that it is hopeful that a technique known as cross-fostering will help in the recovery of Mexican wolves, which currently number over 100 animals in the U.S. The main goal of cross-fostering is to increase the wolf population's inadequate genetic diversity, due to the whole current population being descended from only seven wolves pulled from the wild. However, cross-fostering is also very difficult and requires careful coordination by several wolf recovery facilities in Mexico and the U.S. The process begins when the wolves breed in February and March. The 50 or so facilities in both the countries would notify the Fish and Wildlife Service of possible future pups after observing breeding pairs. Once the females give birth to litters after 63 days, things have to move fast. The captive pups and their wild counterparts should be under 14 days old and the captive ones cannot be separated from their mothers until they are at least five days old. In addition, wild wolves a little hard to monitor in order to know when a litter has been born than their captive counterparts. The recovery team would track a female wolf's movement using radio collars placed on many adult wolves, in order to look for signs that she may be making a den. Once it has been confirmed that the female wolf has been in the same spot for a few days, the team would presume that she has had a litter. The captive pups would be matched with possible wolf dens in the wild.
Gila National Forest

A recent case of cross-fostering occurred on May 7 with the birth of four wolf pups from a litter of eight at the Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka, Missouri. The pups were selected to be placed in two dens in Gila National Forest in New Mexico. After arriving at Gila National Forest, two of the four pups were transported to a den in the Iron Creek area while the other half were taken to a den in the Lava area. It is said that this will possibly be the last cross-fostering of the year and the Fish and Wildlife Service is confident that the method will be at least as useful as releasing adult wolves into the wild. According to the agency's assistant Mexican wolf recovery coordinator Maggie Dwire, releases of pups and adult wolves from captivity have a 28 percent success rate. She further added that if cross-fostering works as well as releasing, then it would be favored. Since 2014, twelve wolf pups were cross-fostered into wild litters out of which four were recorded to have survived, with three of them having produced pups in the wild.
A pair of Mexican wolves at the Endangered Wolf Center

Although I have nothing against cross-fostering, I really think this technique should be taken carefully and closely monitored when helping save Mexican wolves. One thing I would suggest is to closely monitor captive wolf pups that have been placed in a wild litter and check for any issues such as whether the pups are being deprived of their surrogate mother's milk. Same suggestion applies to wild wolf pups when they are placed in foster care of their captive surrogate mother. This would help in understanding whether cross-fostering can help in the conservation of Mexican wolves. In addition, I also believe that the Fish and Wildlife Service should stay in contact with conservation groups like the Center for Biological Diversity who can point out any potential flaws in the agency's Mexican wolf recovery plan and how to improvise it. Even though the Fish and Wildlife Service stated it is confident that cross-fostering will help in saving the wolves, it should not be considered as the only method in the recovery of the wolves. Saving Mexican wolves and other endangered species requires several techniques other than cross-fostering, such as captive-breeding, releasing individuals into the wild from captivity, and conducting awareness workshops addressed to the public on the importance of conserving the wolves and why it is crucial. I believe that using a combination of various conservation techniques, including cross-fostering, could help in the conservation of Mexican wolves and further increase their populations in the wild.

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