Friday, December 15, 2017

Wolves in the U.S Should Deserve a Second Chance

Northwestern wolf
Two conservation groups have recently put up a reward of $20,000 to help condemn poachers responsible for killing two breeding female wolves in eastern Washington. One of the females' carcass was found on December 5 by the staff of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) fifteen miles southwest of the city of Republic in Ferry County. The female wolf's radio collar had stopped functioning in early November, which triggered the search for her body. She was a member of a wolfpack known as the Profanity Pack, who was fitted with a radio collar in 2016 to help the department personnel to track the pack as seven of its eleven members were shot to protect the ranchers' cattle. According to Police Captain Dan Rahn of the WDFW, the female was able to survive the shooting and most of 2017 while traveling on her own until she was killed by a poacher. The second breeding female was found dead by hunters on November 12 roughly ten miles southeast of Colville in Stevens County. She was found within the range of the Dirty Shirt pack and was assumed to be its member. The conservation groups that put up the $20,000 reward were Conservation Northwest and Cascadia Wildlands; each contributed $10,000 toward the reward.
With 45-60 animals left by 2016, the red wolf is on the brink of extinction in its native North Carolina homeland. A push for an end to the state's wolf recovery program by Republican senators has further put the species into jeopardy.

I find it very disturbing and saddening that these two female wolves lost their lives in the murderous hands of poachers. Both of these animals were breeding females, which conservationists had high hopes for regarding the restoration of wolves in the northwestern U.S. But now, those hopes have been shattered hindering the researchers' works and putting the region's wolf population in jeopardy. It goes to show that wolves in the U.S are not getting a second chance to recolonize areas where they had long disappeared, due to human persecution. What is more shocking is that wolves in Washington coexist alongside domestic livestock without incident, yet people resort to lethal methods to eliminate them just to protect their animals. Furthermore, the federal government is also involved in this issue about the relationship between wolves and making decisions that are disheartening to conservation groups committed to protect the animals and ensuring their survival and well-being. In November this year, Republican senators pushed for an end to North Carolina's red wolf recovery program putting the animal's life in jeopardy. It is extremely appalling that the federal government makes such a decision that would spell doom to a species that is on the brink of extinction because of human persecution and pressure. In addition, the relationship between people, especially ranchers, and conservation groups concerning wolves is very strained. Nick Cady of Cascadia Wildlands stated that whenever the group takes legal action, it gets threats. The public needs to understand that these groups are not only trying to save wolves, but also helping farmers and ranchers to peacefully coexist with them. However, there are also people who simply do not care about wolves and would rather see them go extinct. These people could be in Washington, North Carolina, Arizona, or anywhere in the country where wolves are present and they show their colors by sending threats to conservation groups in an attempt to stop them from doing what is right for both wolves and the public. These are the kind of people that should be substantially dealt with. Both gray wolves and red wolves are part of the United States' natural heritage and should deserve a second chance.

View article here                                             

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Asiatic Lion Reintroduction Project- Madhya Pradesh Backs Down

An Asiatic lion pair in Gir Forest National Park
The state of Madhya Pradesh has recently appeared to have given up on the Asiatic Lion Reintroduction Project from Gujarat's Gir Forest National Park to Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary. The state government, after almost twenty years of unsuccessful struggle with Gujarat over transfer of Gir Forest's lions, has unofficially abandoned hope on the project. An order by the Supreme Court authorizing the translocation of lions to Madhya Pradesh could not influence the government of Gujarat from providing the big cats. The government of Madhya Pradesh has instead decided to release and rehabilitate tigers in Kuno-Palpur sanctuary which they claim is ready. The decision came from Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan during a State Wildlife Board meeting, suggesting at a probable failure in getting lions from Gujarat. Sources indicated that the decision to bring tigers in Kuno-Palpur sanctuary clearly shows that the government of Madhya Pradesh has lost hope on bringing lions from Gujarat. Although the government had announced and evacuated a 345-sq. km area for the sanctuary in 1981 and created an extra 900 sq. km of buffer zone in 2015, it did not acknowledge declaring the buffer zone area as a sanctuary which is being argued by the government of Gujarat. Sources further added that wildlife experts and officials from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in a turnaround position also predicted that without notifying the areas as a sanctuary, it would be harmful to the lions' breeding and survival.
View of Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary

It looks this ongoing debate between the governments of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh about the reintroduction of the Asiatic lion has come to a halt. For nearly twenty years, the two governments had been constantly arguing of translocating lions from Gir Forest to the forests Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh. Much of the arguments given by each side were largely political with the Madhya Pradesh government arguing that Gujarat's lion population has increased to such an extent that the animals should be transferred to Madhya Pradesh so the state could start its own lion population. The government of Gujarat, on the other hand, was reluctant to do such a thing arguing that the lions are the "state's heritage" and that the poachers targeting them in Gir Forest come from Madhya Pradesh. Eventually, the Madhya Pradesh government gave up hope and has now decided to release tigers into Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary.
The government of Madhya Pradesh is now focusing on releasing tigers into Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary

I find this news very interesting because it not only marks the end of the 20-year debate between Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh over the translocation of lions outside Gujarat, but it also implies that the efforts Gujarat government put in challenging the Supreme Court's order in 2013 about lion translocation in Madhya Pradesh have paid off. Two years ago, the government of Gujarat presented an argument to the Supreme Court based on studies and guidelines of the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a petition filed by the Wildlife Conservation Trust, Rajkot, and a report by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). The argument stressed that reintroducing lions in Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary may prove to be harmful for lions, the wildlife sanctuary is an important corridor for tiger movement between Ranthambore National Park and Sehore district, and that the lions are not in any threat of extinction for the next hundred years. Before presenting such an argument, Gujarat government was mainly stressing about the lion being the state's heritage. This showed that the collaboration between conservation groups and governments can make a difference in issues related to wildlife and conservation. The government of Madhya Pradesh now wants to release tigers into Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary, but it has not notified that the sanctuary's buffer zone is a protected area which the Gujarat government has argued. It is highly essential that the Madhya Pradesh government announce the sanctuary's buffer zone as a protected area before releasing tigers into Kuno-Palpur. At the same time, the government should collaborate with conservation groups to ensure the animals' safety and well-being.

View article here                      

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Can Instagram Warn People About Wildlife Exploitation?

Instagram's message to all its users about abuse towards endangered wild animals

Social media platform, Instagram, has recently joined the battle against cruelty related to wildlife. This can be seen that when an Instagram user either looks for or clicks on a hashtag that is usually linked to abusive behavior towards endangered species such as posing with or holding wild animals, the following warning message would show up: "You are searching for a hashtag that may be associated with posts that encourage harmful behavior to animals or the environment." When the user clicks through to "Learn more," he or she is guided to a page on wildlife exploitation with information warning tourists against taking photos with endangered exotic animals. Instagram has worked with several wildlife organizations such as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), TRAFFIC, and World Animal Protection, to find the most commonly used hashtags identified with abusive behavior towards animals, including animal tourism and the illegal wildlife trade. An Instagram representative indicated that hundreds of hashtag combinations will now produce the warning. These combinations range from phrases that turn to be used on photos of tourists with captive animals such as #lionselfie, to more outrageous ones linked to illegal wildlife trafficking like #exoticanimalforsale. A simple cursory search of such hashtags can result in thousands of photos showing people touching the animals or posing next to them being held in captivity.

Instagram logo
Although most people know that trafficking endangered species and selling their body parts is illegal and harmful to them, everyone does not consider photos of someone either holding a monkey or riding an elephant as threatening an animal's well-being - but they often can be. Some signs of whether an animal may be being mistreated include an animal being held, constrained or kept caged for tourists. Initially, Instagram had a policy that did not permit images showing animal abuse or sale of endangered animals. But now, the staff in support of the app's monitoring and reporting system have received further education from wildlife experts on what kinds of activities are abusive or illegal when it comes to animals. Instagram's latest program warning users about wildlife exploitation works much like those installed by the platform last year related to issues of self-harm, which triggered a pop-up message to users looking for hashtags related to eating disorders, suicide, and other topics. However, Instagram's warning system does have its drawbacks. For example, the message which pops up after clicking on a given hashtag related to wildlife photos would not show up to warn a user if he/she is the one posting a photo with the hashtag. In addition, anyone who sees the warning can easily click "show posts" and go about their search for such photos. According one Instagram representative, the goal of this program aims to educate people who might not know that their actions can support activities in the tourism industry that are harmful to animals.
Due to the popularity of elephants in Asia's tourism industry, tourists have their pictures taken riding on them often not understanding the animals' well-being.

I find it very impressive and beneficial that Instagram has joined forces with wildlife organizations to warn and educate users about the cruelty behind photos they take of themselves with endangered wild animals. By setting up such a program that warns users about hashtags associated with posts encouraging wild animal abuse and information related to wildlife exploitation, Instagram is reaching out to the global community and raising awareness about the illegal wildlife trade. However, the program's limits include not showing the warning message to users who themselves post photos with hashtags related to wildlife exploitation and that anyone who sees the warning can simply ignore it and proceed to look at such photos by clicking "show posts." I think out of these two drawbacks, the biggest problem is that people choose to ignore the message and spend their time enjoying looking at photos of other people holding endangered wild animals, touching them, taking selfies with them, or doing anything that encourages harmful behavior to the animals. How will people learn about the harmful effects of wildlife exploitation on endangered species, especially if they have never made physical contact with such animals and took pictures of themselves with animals? This is why I believe people should take Instagram's warning very seriously and learn to respect endangered species by giving them their space, never purchasing products made out of their body parts, and understanding the harmful effects of poaching combined with the illegal smuggling of wildlife. At first, these photos of tourists posing with endangered species may appear fun and humorous to look at but when you scratch the surface, it is not what it appears to be. Many of these animals are captured from their natural habitat, kept in cramped conditions, and constantly passed around from one tourist to another for picture-taking which causes extreme trauma. Therefore, people should reconsider their decisions of having their pictures taken with endangered animals when traveling to exotic places and never be fooled by the photos taken of themselves with such animals. If you care so much about the animals and their well-being, then don't do it. Simple as that.

View article here      

Monday, November 27, 2017

Climate Change Influences Behavior of Polar Bears

Polar bears feasting on a whale carcass on Russia's Wrangel Island in the Arctic Circle.  

Bears are generally solitary animals and normally keep a safe distance from one another, except during the mating season. However, when they are seen congregating in large numbers in a particular area, it might imply that they are social animals when in fact they are not. This example is best seen in the case of grizzly bears and Alaskan brown bears, which are known to congregate in large numbers during the annual spawning of salmon in North America. Although it initially appears that these bears are socializing over salmon, many keep their distance to avoid conflict with one another. But even with millions of fish to choose from, there is always a chance of conflict when the bears compete with one another for food to satisfy their immense appetites. The only social interaction that occurs during such events is between mother bears and their young. That is, the mothers teach their cubs how to fish for their food and most importantly, avoid contact with the highly competitive and dangerous male bears.
Some 200 bears gathered on the island, which scientists see as a sign of Arctic changing.

But two months ago, in the far eastern side of the Russian Arctic, a similar event occurred in which polar bears were sighted by a boatload of tourists congregating in large numbers on Wrangel Island. According to Alexander Gruzdev, director of the Wrangel Island nature reserve, the bears were seen feasting on a bowhead whale carcass that had washed ashore and later resting around it. While this encounter may seemed like a spectacle for the tourists, scientists see it as an indication of the effect of climate change on the polar bears. Due to the melting of ice earlier this year, the bears are forced to spend longer time on land than on ice where they are most at home. In addition, the bears will sooner or later face competition for little food there is on land the more crammed together they are on coasts and islands. Wrangel Island is known to be a resting place for polar bears after ice melts in early August until November, when they leave the island to hunt for seals. Mr. Gruzdev added that it is also known to have the "highest density of maternity dens in the entire Arctic." However, according to Eric Regehr from University of Washington and the lead scientist on the U.S-Russian collaborative study of Wrangel Island's polar bears, the animals now spend on average a month longer on the island, compared to how they did 20 years ago. Studies have also shown that the number of bears discovered this autumn was 589, far surpassing previous estimates of 200-300 animals which Mr. Regehr calls "anomalously high."
Coastal landscape of Wrangel Island

I really think that the public should recognize this sighting as an indication of the climate change's effects on not just polar bears, but also other inhabitants in the Arctic Circle. Not only is the melting of ice forcing the bears to spend more time on land than on ice, but it is also compelling them to venture close into villages putting locals at risk. Since mid-October, the bears have been coming dangerously close to a Chukchi village called Ryrkaipy near Kozhevnikov Cape which is located 124 miles south of Wrangel Island. Kozhevnikov Cape also happens to be an important site for walrus congregations known as haulouts. Due to change in ice conditions, walruses are forced to come ashore in steep inadequate areas. According to polar bear specialist Viktor Nikiforov, hundreds of walruses died this year as huge individuals crushed one another probably after being disturbed by a predator. The incident resulted in some walrus carcasses floating to the village, thus attracting polar bears. This was seen when one bear broke a window of a house, sending the entire village to go on high alert. Mr. Nikiforov added that scientists and local people moved walrus carcasses away from the village with bulldozers and reiterated concerns that bears spend more time ashore than on ice. He further added that measurements such as bear patrols need to be implemented to reduce human-bear conflicts.
Climate change is also forcing walruses to come ashore in unsuitable areas.

I also feel that because polar bears are spending more time on land than on ice, they are unable to hunt for seals the way they used to decades ago. Despite having some food sources on land such as lemmings, musk oxen, or even grass, the bears solely rely on seals as their main source of energy-packed food which they have evolved to depend on. This also explains why hundreds of bears gathered around the whale carcass on Wrangel Island. Like seals, whales are also packed with energy which polar bears rely on. This is why they often target beluga whales, as well as seals and walruses, while hunting on ice. The impact of climate change appears to have tremendously influenced the behavior of polar bears. They are spending more time on land in larger concentrations than they are on ice and they are forced to move dangerously close to human settlements increasing the chance of human-bear conflict. This is why it is highly essential to consider the effects of climate change seriously and take necessary action to prevent any devastation of both people and wildlife.

View article here                          

Saturday, November 18, 2017

U.S Federal Government Should Recognize the Link Between Africa's Poaching and Terrorism

An elephant herd in Kenya's Tsavo East National Park

The Trump administration was recently reported that it would allow the importation of elephant trophies into the U.S from Zambia and Zimbabwe. The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service argued that the new policy would encourage wealthy big-game hunters to kill elephants, lions, rhinos, and other threatened species to raise money for conservation programs. But recently, President Trump indicated that he is delaying the policy until he can "review all conservation facts" with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. The decision made by the Trump administration was highly criticized by animal rights advocates and environmental groups. However, one of the key political figures to speak against the decision was California Republican Ed Royce, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who pushed the administration to cancel the policy, calling it the "wrong move at the wrong time." He also opposed the action because of matters not only about Africa's wildlife, but U.S national security, pointing out the political upheaval in Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe was placed under house arrest by the military. Due to this unstable situation, the U.S Embassy in Zimbabwe has advised American people to limit their travel outdoors. In addition to Mr. Royce, two other lawmakers, Republicans Vern Buchanan of Florida and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, who also happened to be co-chairs of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, blasted the policy. Furthermore, Tanya Sanerib, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, called for "immediate federal action to reverse these policies" and not just a tweet to show that President Trump is reconsidering this decision.

Although it is great to see that public outrage has forced President Trump to put this federal policy on hold, it is extremely crucial to recognize the connection between the poaching of elephants and other endangered African wildlife to international terrorism. Mr. Royce, in his statement, indicated that elephants and other African animals are "blood currency for terrorist organizations." This shows that he recognizes poaching as not just a threat to the world's most magnificent animals, but also a matter of national security. Africa's militant organizations like Al-Shabaab, Janjaweed, and the Lord's Resistance (LRA) profit from poaching of elephants in which they are able to gain access to arms and ammunition to carry out their terrorist attacks against both local and foreign people. I think that if poaching of Africa's elephants, lions, rhinos, and other endangered wildlife continues uncontrollably, it will lead to more incidences of terrorist attacks in both Africa and other parts of the world, especially when globally significant terrorist organizations such as the ISIS will benefit from elephant ivory and body parts of other endangered species. It is highly essential that the U.S federal government recognize the link between poaching and global terrorism and act upon it. Otherwise, lives of both people and animals will be in grave danger.

View article here                   

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Trump Administration- A New Enemy to Africa's Elephants

Trophy hunter David Barrett with an elephant he killed in Zimbabwe in 2009

The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has recently confirmed that the Trump administration will lift the ban on the importation of elephant trophies from Zambia and Zimbabwe after deciding that sport hunting in those countries will help conserve the animals. The decision was made public by Safari Club International (SCI), a trophy hunting advocacy group that, along with the National Rifle Association, sued to stop the 2014 ban. USFWS's principal deputy director, Greg Sheehan, disclosed the news to the organization during the African Wildlife Consultative Forum (AWCF) in Tanzania. Although African elephants have been listed as threatened species under the Endangered Species Act since 1978, a provision of the law permits for sport-hunted trophies to be imported if the government decides that hunting will help protect the population. A spokesperson for the USFWS indicated that a notice regarding the agency's decision on elephants in Zimbabwe will be published Friday in the Federal Register. It is uncertain when the agency's decision will be posted, but it is said that the decision will allow for anyone who legally kills an elephant in Zimbabwe from January 21, 2016 to December 31, 2018, or in Zambia in 2016, 2017 and 2018 to obtain a permit to import their trophy into the U.S. The decision was praised by SCI President, Paul Babaz, who said that it demonstrates the agency's recognition on hunting being "beneficial to wildlife and that these range countries know how to manage their elephant populations." However, in a blog post, Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), called the decision "jarring." He also added that the decision coming from SCI "suggests an uncomfortably cozy and even improper relationship between trophy hunting interests and the Department of the Interior." The Interior Department is led by Secretary Ryan Zinke, who is an avid hunter and has pushed to increase opportunities for hunting and fishing. Earlier this month, he announced the establishment of a so-called International Wildlife Conservation Council to advise him on "the benefits that international recreational hunting has on foreign wildlife and habitat conservation, anti-poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking programs."

Ever since he got sworn into office as the President of the United States, Donald Trump received severe criticism from the public regarding his views on issues ranging from immigration to the global environment. He has even attempted to reverse the laws implemented by the Obama administration, and one of them happened to be the ban on the importation of elephant trophies from Africa. This is extremely outrageous because it shows that the U.S is not taking a tough stand against the illegal poaching and trafficking of endangered wildlife around the world. How is regulated sport hunting going to help in the conservation of endangered species like elephants, whose numbers continue to fall in the hands of human beings? According to the 2016 Great Elephant Census, Africa's elephant population plummeted by 30 percent across 18 countries. In Zimbabwe, it decreased by 6 percent and Zambia recorded "substantial declines" along the Zambezi River, even though the population elsewhere in the country remained stable. President Trump does not seem to understand that the illegal slaughter of elephants in Africa is also linked to militant groups like the Al-Shabaab, Janjaweed, and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). These groups benefit financially from the elephants' ivory because it promises them arms and ammunition to conduct their terrorist activities in their countries of operations. It is not just local people who are ruthlessly killed by these bloodthirsty killers; non-African people have also been victims of their brutality. For example, Al-Shabaab was responsible for an attack at a shopping mall in Nairobi in 2013 which claimed 67 lives. Out of the 67 people killed, 17 were foreigners. This clearly implies how the illegal ivory trade is linked to international terrorism. In my opinion, the decision made by the Trump administration to allow importation of elephant ivory in the U.S is sure to spell disaster for both elephants and people. In addition, it will certainly result in severe public backlash not just towards President Trump but also members of the American public having their photos taken with elephants they have killed for trophies.

View article and video here 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Wolves and Politics Don't Mix

Gray wolf

A group of Republican lawmakers are pushing a legislation that would prevent game wardens and law enforcement from investigating and prosecuting illegal wolf killings in the state of Wisconsin. This legislation is being backed by GOP state Republicans Adam Jarchow of Balsam Lake, Mary Felzkowski of Irma and Romaine Quinn of Rice Lake, and Senator Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst. In an email demanding co-sponsors for the bill, the authors stated that it is an effort to compel the Congress to enact an undecided federal legislation that would remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list. Mr. Jarchow, who announced a run for state Senate, indicated that the bill reflects an executive order made by Governor Butch Otter of Idaho in 2011 that he believes forced the federal government to end wolf protections there. In 2011, the Department of the Interior removed the wolf from the endangered species list in the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Republicans quickly formulated and declared a state wolf hunt targeted at reducing an increasing population. However, that hunt lasted for only two years after a federal appeals court placed the wolves back on the list, claiming that the federal managers failed to think about the impacts of de-listing and did not give reason for the loss of the animal's historic range. Since then, an increasing number of beef producers, farmers, hunters, and lawmakers in northern Wisconsin have protested that the state's wolf population has gotten out of control and is causing problems. Mr. Jarchow stated that they have been waiting for the authorization of federal legislation that would remove wolves from protection again. But until that happens, he thinks that the federal government is acting in bad faith, so Wisconsin should not participate in what he sees as inadequate management. However, Rachel Tilseth, a wolf advocate of the group Wolves of Douglas County, is doubtful the legislation will pass. She thinks that it is more about getting attention for the anti-wolf movement in Wisconsin. She also claimed that wolves are destroying northern Wisconsin's deer populations and decimating mass amount of livestock are false. Despite a recent report of a record population of wolves in Wisconsin, she revealed that compensations made to farmers for animals attacked by wolves were down last year.

This issue of de-listing wolves or keeping them as endangered species has been going on for a long time. And all this time, it has become more of a political matter than a conservation issue. Politicians across the country have been debating whether to keep wolves as endangered species or remove them and majority of the arguments they have given do not have any scientific backup. It makes me feel frustrated to see the country's politicians, regardless of what party they are, constantly argue on what to do about wolves and at the same time farmers, ranchers, and other people are complaining about the animals causing trouble. I say that the issues related to wolves in the U.S should be of concern to conservation groups and not politicians. Conservation groups provide arguments and suggestions with proper scientific proof when it comes to dealing with issues related to wildlife. While none of the politicians have background in science, they should be willing to listen to and consider the arguments and suggestions made by conservation groups to help with their bill-drafting and decision-making on issues related to wolves or other wildlife. This recent legislation was drafted just to gain attention from the country's anti-wolf movement and probably does not contain any valid facts why game wardens and law enforcement officials should not investigate and prosecute killing of wolves in Wisconsin. This is why it is best to leave matters related to wildlife and conservation to biologists, researchers, and groups committed to the survival and well-being of wild animals, including endangered ones. Only they can determine whether an animal species can stay on the endangered species list or not.

View article here