Saturday, October 14, 2017

Strong Effort in Motion to Save the Vaquita Porpoise from Extinction

Vaquita porpoise

The Mexican government has allocated more than $100 million to save and protect the endemic and critically endangered vaquita porpoise. Two years ago, President Pena Nieto showed his dedication to saving the vaquita by proclaiming a two-year ban on using gillnets throughout the porpoise's range while compensating fishermen and similar industries for their loss of income and improving the multi-agency enforcement of the ban led by the Mexican Navy. However, earlier this year, the gillnet ban was made permanent. Recently, the government has gathered an international team of experts in the town of San Felipe in northern Baja California to initiate an ambitious plan called Vaquita CPR to save the porpoise. This project involves finding and assembling the few remaining porpoises and placing them in an ocean sanctuary off the coast of San Felipe. The porpoises will be released as soon as gillnets and illegal fishing have been removed from their natural habitat. The field operations began on October 12; an acoustic monitoring system will be used to help find the porpoises. This system was first used by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change of Mexico (INECC) in 2012 to oversee the vaquita population. In addition, large floating sea pens have been installed so that animal care experts and veterinarians can intently monitor the rescued porpoises. The WWF will also focus on finding and removing lost or abandoned nets, which can tangle the porpoises and other marine species. Both of these tactics will be carried out with the help of local fishermen.
A floating sea pen off the coast of San Felipe to temporarily hold the porpoises 
A pair of vaquitas

The future of the vaquita porpoise appears to be bright with the Mexican government taking the initiative in collaboration with the WWF and so many international experts to save it from the brink of extinction. What makes this conservation project special is that it consists of a joint cooperation between conservation groups and local fishermen. That is, the fishermen will be helping WWF and others in finding and removing nets in vaquita habitat, and monitoring the porpoises as well. This is a classic example of a full-fledged partnership between the local people, their government, and global conservation groups like the WWF working together to save a species that is on the brink of extinction. According to Cynthia Smith, executive director of the National Marine Mammal Foundation, if this project works, similar approaches may be used to save other marine mammals facing extinction.

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Burmese Star Tortoise Back from the Brink of Extinction

Burmese star tortoise

It has recently been reported that the Burmese star tortoise has made a comeback from the brink of extinction. This has been a result of a strong captive-breeding effort, which led to a population surge of 14,000 individuals according to a recent paper in the journal Herpetological Review. Native to Burma's central dry zone, these tortoises came to attention in 2003 when a survey team spent almost 1,000 hours searching for one of them but could not find one. The tortoise was then concluded to be ecologically extinct in the wild. In order to save the species, the Wildlife Conservation Society joined forces with an international conservation network called the Turtle Survival Alliance along with the government of Burma. A captive-breeding program was established at three local wildlife sanctuaries. The team began with around 175 tortoises, mostly seized from exotic animal traffickers,  and were supported by an army of herpetologists, molecular scientists, and veterinarians from the Bronx Zoo. Now, 750 tortoises have been released into the sanctuaries. It has been confirmed that the remaining 13,000 or so tortoises will remain in captivity until poaching is reduced. However, there is a constant threat of theft with about 200 tortoises stolen from the program so far. To prevent further thefts, the captive tortoises are kept in 10-foot concrete enclosures with concertina wire looped over the top and heavily guarded round-the-clock by staff members. Nevertheless, the project has been a success, astounding its strongest supporters, who call it a "model chelonian conservation success story."
Map of the Central Dry Zone in Burma

It is indeed a tremendous news for global conservation that the Burmese star tortoise has made a successful comeback from the brink of extinction. So far, 750 of these reptiles have been released into the wild. It is highly crucial to aggressively protect them from anthropogenic pressures like the exotic pet trade, poaching, and habitat destruction. This would increase their chances of survival and when they do, more captive populations can be reintroduced into the wild. The Burmese star tortoise is a critically endangered species, meaning it should be strongly protected to ensure its population increases to the point that it can be relabeled as either "Endangered" or "Vulnerable" according to the IUCN Red List.

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Trial Against Rhino Poaching Kingpin Delayed for 17th Time

Dumisani Gwala threatening a Zululand Observer journalist for having his photo taken 

A trial against an alleged rhino poaching kingpin Dumisani Gwala and his co-accused was delayed for the 17th time on Monday when he appeared in the Ngwelezana Regional Court. Gwala, along with his co-accused Wiseman Makeba and Aubrey Dlamini, are facing ten charges relating to the illegal purchase and possession of rhino horns, and of resisting arrest. Since his arrest in 2014, Gwala was thought to have been involved in 80% of the illegal rhino horn trade in KwaZulu-Natal. Last month, a trial date was set for this month but an appointment of a new prosecutor to the case resulted in postponement until May next year. The decision led to Saving the Wild activist Jamie Joseph to suspect whether the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) was trying to hinder the case by replacing State Advocate Yuri Gangai with a local senior prosecutor. Ms. Joseph told the Zululand Observer she had proof that a bribe was paid to influence the case in Gwala's favor, and this accusation is yet to be proven. She further added that this must be seen in a context of a reported intention of State Advocate Gangai producing an application for the refusal of Magistrate Shandu. In addition, she warned that this whole case is "built around allegations that there is a Zululand syndicate of corrupt magistrates and prosecutors protecting rhino poachers and kingpins."
Jamie Joseph tries to confront Gwala, who turned his back on her at the Ngwelezana Regional Court 

It is extremely disheartening that the fight against rhino poaching in South Africa is being hindered by corruption, in which magistrates and prosecutors are protecting rhino poachers and kingpins from being found guilty for their crimes. This allows the perpetrators to continue with their illegal activities, resulting in further loss of rhinos in the country. This year alone, more than 200 rhinos have been killed in KwaZulu-Natal. This figure will keep rising if trials against people like Dumisani Gwala continue to become delayed or worse: released despite strong evidence for their crimes committed. This is why it is crucial to combat corruption and bribery associated with corruption when fighting against rhino poaching. This includes targeting magistrates, prosecutors, and other influential figures in the political and legal systems suspected of taking bribes from poachers in exchange for protection.

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Gujarat High Court Dismisses Plea Against Lion Safari Park

A pair of Asiatic lions

The Gujarat High Court recently dismissed a public interest litigation (PIL) that had raised criticism over the state government's plan of starting a fenced lion safari park for tourists in Gir Forest National Park. The PIL claimed that the park will damage the forest's ecosystem. The petition was filed by a city-based activist named Biren Pandya, who argued that permission for this park was pending for ten years and originally the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) did not give permission for the park. However, on May 18 of this year, the central government refurbished the CZA and "without any inspection (which is necessary) the final permission was granted by the technical committee on June 5." The PIL claimed that setting up a safari park on reserved forest land was in violation of standards of wildlife conservation. It also claimed that 400 hectares of forest area which used to be a haven for lions and other animals had been fenced in the past few years to be made into the safari park. Furthermore, it alleged that 18 lions have already been transferred and the entire lion satellite population has been "wiped out." The court indicated that the petitioner came after much delay and by then physical infrastructure like fencing had already been finished. The goal of this safari park is to cut down on the tourism in Gir Forest and is said to have three zoo-bred lions (one male and two females) for public viewing in a forest environment.

The idea of setting up a lion safari park in the vicinity of Gir Forest is something that generates mixed opinions. On one hand, it can help in regulating the tourist flow in the national park and on the other hand, it may damage the forest ecosystem. Even though this project was given an approval without proper inspection by the CZA, it is still very important to closely monitor it to see that it does not do any major damage to the Gir Forest ecosystem. In addition, the flow of tourism to this park must also be closely monitored. Just because the animals that are to be transferred to the park are zoo-bred does not mean they are used to being around people. They are still wild animals and should be given their space even in captivity. Furthermore, it would be very beneficial that the lions coming to this park should be kept for educational purposes as well as tourism. The goal of having a safari park should not solely be for providing entertainment for local and international tourists; but also for educating the public. That is, the park should also serve as a venue for school groups to learn about lions, other Gir Forest wildlife, the importance importance of conservation, etc. Just like Gir Forest, this safari park should administer strict rules and regulations to the public to ensure that the forest ecosystem is not negatively affected by tourism and other anthropogenic factors. The following suggestions above can help make this lion safari park a reputable place next to Gir Forest.

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Friday, October 13, 2017

IIT Madras Blamed for Death of Wild Animals and Poor Waste Management

Spotted deer feeding on garbage scraps on IIT Madras campus

IIT Madras has recently become a subject of controversy over a large-scale death of wild animals and poor waste management disposal on its campus. According to Md. Nasimuddin, Principal Secretary of the Environment and Forests Department, a data from the forest department showed that up to 517 animals had died, including spotted deer, blackbucks, and jackals, since 2010. The government of Tamil Nadu indicated that the issue had been given to the attention of the institute's management by the forest department on many occasions. An affidavit showed that the range forest officer from Guindy National Park had been carrying out weekly investigations inside the campus and advising authorities to take proper action. The affidavit further added that the forest department was taking legal action in case of an offence (i.e wildlife death due to an accident) against the person responsible on the campus, but did not provide facts of the action taken. The government also stated that IIT Madras must step in to curtail noise pollution during cultural festivals. The wildlife warden of Guindy National Park suggested a number of steps such as safe disposal of solid waste like plastic, a fully developed veterinary care unit, and a plan for management and protection of wildlife.
IIT Madras logo

The news about the death of several wild animals on the IIT Madras campus, due to poor management is very appalling. Several of the victims included endangered species like blackbucks and much of the campus is protected forest which is carved out of Guindy National Park. This means that students and staff have the opportunity to see wild animals on the university grounds. But with the presence of wild animals, it is crucial to properly manage waste disposal and ensure that wild animals stay safe by any means. This includes educating the students and staff to never feed the animals and establishing a segregated area exclusively for the wildlife. The affidavit included that blackbucks were attacked by stray dogs, which indicates the need to establish such an area to protect the wildlife. Furthermore, an inspection report by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board showed that plastic waste was seen in areas such as Krishna Hostel gate, Velachery residential area, and the sewage treatment plant area. This is why properly managing waste disposal, especially plastic, is of utmost important to prevent any possible incidents of pollution in the vicinity of IIT Madras. In addition, noise pollution should also be kept at minimum due to the presence of Guindy National Park.

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French Sheep Farmers Protest Against Wolf Attacks in Lyon

French breeders demonstrate with their sheep in Lyon

A total of 1,500 sheep farmers disembarked to the French city of Lyon with their flocks to express their anguish over a number wolf attacks in France's Aveyron region. The farmers warned that the wolves, which returned to the country in the early 1990s and now comprise of 360 animals, are threatening their way of life. According to breeder Francois Giacobbi, although the number represents only a handful of wolves in the area, the 800,000 sheep have become a "pantry for the wolf." The farmers claim that the use of electric fences and livestock guardian dogs has not worked. Last year, government figures indicated that 8,000 sheep were killed in attacks blamed on wolves in southeastern France. This year, the figure has reached 4,153 with major increase in Aveyron where attacks increased from 16 in 2016 to 50 this year. The farmers are particularly at odds with the government's so-called "wolf plan" which allows a nationwide killing of up to 40 wolves by July 2018. Unions closed off on talks over the plan last month, particularly over a new measure which requires farmers to give proof that they have take protective actions to receive financial compensation for wolf attacks. On Monday, the farmers called for the right to be allowed to shoot wolves on sight over and above the limit according to the plan whenever their flock is instantly threatened. They demanded the government to establish a "zero-attack" policy, warning otherwise that their way of life could diminish.
Up to 1,500 farmers took to the streets with their flocks demonstrating to call for attention to increase in wolf attacks on the sheep

It is very disturbing to see what a hostile relationship France's sheep farmers have with wolves, and are now demanding the government to allow them to take matters into their own hands in dealing with wolves. Despite the use of non-lethal protective measurements like livestock guardian dogs and electric fencing, the farmers claimed that such measures have not worked. They even added that they do not need to have solid proof to show that they have lost their sheep to wolves and received "massive subsidies" for such losses. This is outright persecution of an animal that has always been depicted as a "cold-blooded killer" in European folklore for centuries. Ironically, people in Europe were treated in much the same way during the Middle Ages when there was no need to have legitimate proof to condemn a person(s) accused or suspected of committing a serious crime. In addition, this "wolf plan" is described by pro-wolf groups as "very favorable to farmers and very anti-wolf."
A banner showing French poet Victor Hugo's quote which reads "He who saves the wolf kills the sheep"

The farmers, the government, and wildlife activists should compromise peacefully regarding the problems farmers are facing and come up with plans that benefit both farmers and wolves. This includes educating farmers to never unfairly stigmatize wolves as killers and should be decimated without question. In addition, when farmers claim that non-lethal protective measurements are not working, they should have proper reason and proof as to why they are not working. Otherwise, there would be no help in tackling this issue of livestock predation by wolves. The arguments and demands farmers made in Lyon indicates that their mindset is similar to that of their ancestors from the Middle Ages. They should be taught that such a way of thinking and taking actions based on that thinking will not make much difference in solving their wolf problem. If somehow the wolves disappear from France, then it would cause a major ecological imbalance as the number of prey species will increase and present farmers with another problem of disease spreading to their livestock.

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Sunday, October 8, 2017

United Kingdom to Ban Ivory Trade in Attempt to End Elephant Poaching

A two-month-old male elephant calf chasing an Egyptian goose

The government of the United Kingdom has recently announced that it will introduce a "total ban" on the trade and sale of nearly all ivory in an effort to end elephant poaching. The country is currently the largest exporter of legal ivory in the world, with pieces carved before 1947 or worked on before 1990 with government certificates lawfully allowed to be sold. The projected ban would prevent ivory trade all together and will possibly be launched next year. The government claimed it wants to help stop 20,000 elephants being poached every year. Environment Secretary Michael Gove claimed that the legal trade "masks the illegal trade", and that it was "far easier, far more effective" to entirely ban it all together. The announcement of the ban is due to the pressure on the government from campaign groups and notable figures in spite of the policy not being included in the 2016 Conservative General Election proclamation. Among the individuals who previously demanded ban on the ivory trade included Stephen Hawking, Prince William, and former Tory leader William Hague. Boris Johnson, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, even called for the ban within the cabinet. In the consultation announcement, Mr. Gove indicated that the plans for the ban "will put the U.K front and center of global efforts to end the insidious trade in ivory."

It is tremendous news that the government of U.K has announced a complete ban on ivory trade with very limited exceptions, in order to stop elephant poaching. The announcement was welcomed by everybody, including elephant conservation charity Tusk, which suggested that the government should move quickly to close its ivory market following the consultation and before the country presents the next conference on the illegal wildlife trade in 2018. This is extremely crucial because it would look embarrassing on U.K's part if the ivory trade is still allowed, while other countries like China are pressured to fight the illegal trade. Countries such as China where the demand for elephant ivory, rhino horns, and other products made from endangered wildlife remain high should not be seen as the only countries whose governments should be pressured to ban the illegal trade of such items. Governments of other countries, not just U.K, must also ban the illegal ivory trade if they are to help in effort to end poaching of elephants and other endangered wildlife. John Stephenson, chief executive of Stop Ivory, stated that this unparalleled crisis will only end if people stop buying ivory and other products of endangered wildlife. The public must step up in the fight against poaching and the illegal wildlife trade by never purchasing such illegal items.

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