Friday, January 19, 2018

Changes in Weather Patterns Can Spell Disaster to Animal Populations

A vast number of saiga antelopes lying dead in central Kazakhstan in May 2015.

In 2015, it was reported that more than 200,000 saiga antelopes suddenly died in central Kazakhstan as a result of a bacteria called Pasteurella multocida type B. But now, a new study has indicated that the bacteria was already present in the antelopes and was provoked due to a period of strange weather. The mass mortality event was witnessed by Dr. Richard Kock, a professor of wildlife health and emerging diseases at the Royal Veterinary College, who indicated that the animals died as a result of hemorrhagic septicemia which was caused by the bacteria. However, only 30,000 of the antelopes survived such a catastrophic event. This indicates that the bacteria itself was not enough to explain the die-off. A recent paper published in Science Advances showed that majority of the adult antelopes already had the bacteria in their bodies and a ten-day period of strange heat and humidity triggered the bacteria to breed rapidly and ultimately kill the antelopes at the same time. The authors of the paper created models that looked two other extinction events - one in 1981 and another in 1988 - where the antelopes are also thought to have died because of hemorrhagic septicemia. It analyzed environmental factors such as rainfall, temperature, wind, and vegetation state. According to Dr. Kock, the ten-day period consisted of extremely high levels of humidity per day and because the bacteria is concentrated in the animals' tonsils, they are quite close to air and therefore respond to that change in atmosphere by increasing rapidly. He further added that the 30,000 antelopes which survived mass fatality event was because they were out of the "climate envelope." That is, male bachelor saigas moved further up north where humidity levels were lower, while some females stayed in smaller groups in desolate areas. Although the antelopes are now rebounding and breed quickly, it is unclear whether they could survive a similar event.
A newborn saiga calf

I think this mass catastrophic event in 2015 may be related to climate change. That is, climate change is known to cause changes in weather patterns and often these changes can have a life-threatening impact on various species. These saiga antelopes succumbed to climate change when the bacteria in their bodies responded to the change in weather patterns by rapidly multiplying and ultimately killing the animals. I really believe that the public should wake up and put the issue of climate change into great consideration and take action. Saiga antelopes are not the only animals that have become victims and casualties to such an environmental catastrophe. Dr. Kock pointed out that there is proof that changes in weather patterns could be having similar effect on other animals, such as musk ox and reindeer. I really think it is highly crucial that scientists and researchers should thoroughly study Pasteurella multocida, in order to come up with some kind of a solution to combat this bacteria so that the world's remaining saiga antelopes do not fall victims to such environmental catastrophes. This includes determining what percent of the global population has the bacteria and what percent doesn't. Similar measurements should be implemented to save other animals which are found to be affected by unusual weather patterns.

View article here               

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Why are Safety Measurements Not Being Implemented to Save the Great Indian Bustard?

Great Indian bustard in its natural habitat

The great Indian bustard is one of the most magnificent species of birds endemic to India. It is also one of the most critically endangered. With no more than 150 birds thought to be left in the country, it is on the verge of extinction due to a wide range of factors such as mining, agriculture, and infrastructure. One form of infrastructure that has contributed to the downfall of this bird is electrocution by power lines that are part of renewable energy projects set up in the vicinity of its habitat. This example was seen in the case of a dead bustard found mutilated by forest officials in the village of Khetloi near Desert National Park in Rajasthan's Thar Desert on December 29, 2017. This was the second bustard that had been electrocuted in December 2017, fourth since June of the same year, and the ninth over the past ten years. According to Gobind Sagar Bhardwaj, former director of Desert National Park, the mortality of the bustard could be greater because several cases go unheard-of in the secluded landscapes of a swathe of land spreading across roughly 8,000 sq. km in Jaisalmer district known as the Great Indian Bustard Arc. In a 2010 paper, scientists warned that even though nine bustards have died over ten years, there are no more than than 150 birds left worldwide, and even if a bird dies from causes connected to human behavior, it could be extinct in three generations. The warning was repeated in 2013 in the Guidelines for the Great Indian Bustard Recovery Programme published by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. An unpublished study carried out by a team led by bustard conservationist and WII scientist, Sutirtha Dutta, revealed that five bird species die per kilometer of power line every month in the Thar Desert. An estimation of Dr. Dutta's findings to the 6,000 km of power lines bordering 3,000 sq. km of bustard habitat indicated that 18,700 birds die every month. In addition to the bustard, other birds that are killed by power lines include the griffon and Egyptian vultures, buzzards, falcons, demoiselle cranes, and even pigeons.     
A mutilated carcass of a great Indian bustard found by forest officials in Khetloi village.
Since 2000, two prime bustard habitats have been encroached by an abundance of renewable energy projects - mainly wind - located in isolated, open areas, from where the electricity must be discharged to the grid. One of these habitats is the Thar Desert, where it is estimated that 90 of the 125 bustards remain in India. Another significant bustard habitat is Kutch district in the state of Gujarat, which accommodates, probably a dozen birds, making it the country's second largest bustard population. However, the numbers in the state are obscure. It was reported in November 2016 that Gujarat announced there were 40 birds, but a count from that same year showed no more than six birds. In addition to Rajasthan, power lines have also killed bustards in Solapur district in southern Maharashtra; three over the last ten years. The last victim was a breeding male named "Alpha", who was identified with a GPS transmitter connected to a satellite and was burned by a power line running close to Nanaj Wildlife Sanctuary. Experts estimate that there are no more than eight bustards in Solapur district. According to Dr. Dutta, male bustards are especially at risk of electrocution from power lines because of they fly low and their limited vision prevents them to spot obstacles until it is too late. These characteristics have also been discovered with the Ludwig's bustard of southern Africa, whose home range includes Karoo in South Africa which has large numbers of power lines. A study in the late 1990s documented about two Ludwig's bustards were killed per kilometer of an electric line every year. Although the number of Ludwig's bustards is in thousands compared to their Indian counterparts, their deaths by electrocution through power lines reflects that of the Indian species.
Map showing the major concentration in a tiny swathe of Desert National and remaining numbers in the Pokhran field firing range of the Indian Army.

Whenever I look at news related to the great Indian bustard, almost each and every article does not indicate any sense of hope for the future of this magnificent bird. Researchers say that bustard deaths can be preventable and safety measurements are agreed on, but why are they not implemented? What is it that is preventing safety measurements to save the bustard from becoming extinct in its native homeland? Whatever the reason, it is obvious that this bird is not being given so much attention like a more charismatic species such as the tiger despite being categorized as a Schedule I species under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. It is extremely outrageous that the public is unaware of the plight of the great Indian bustard as it continues to decline in its native homeland, and pay more attention to other more "recognizable" animals. To save and protect wildlife, people should not limit themselves to only one or few species of wild animals; they have to educate themselves on which species of animals are listed as "endangered" and "critically endangered," and act upon it. The growing presence of renewable energy power lines is making it extremely treacherous for the bustards and other bird species to move around, and it is very crucial that the public should wake up to listen to what scientists, researchers, and conservationists say about preventing further bustard deaths. One method is to install bird-flight diverters, which are brightly-colored spirals made of steel or plastic, that make transmission lines more visible to the birds on existing power lines. But despite a meeting in June 2016 between the Rajasthan forest department, Rajasthan Renewable Energy Corporation Ltd (RREC), Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Prasaran Nigam Ltd, conservationists, and wind-power companies to implement such measurements, nothing has changed. I urge the members of India's renewable energy companies to follow the advice from conservationists and experts in implementing such measurements and I urge the public in Rajasthan and other states where bustards are living to take action to help save the birds. Time is running out for the bustard. It is not too late to save it from extinction, but India needs to act fast.

View article here                 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Zimbabwe's Women- A New Line of Defense Against Illegal Poaching

An Akashinga member in full gear

When it comes to tackling poaching of endangered wildlife, most members in anti-poaching squads have been men. However, it has been noted that women are also taking part in the ongoing battle against illegal poaching. One of these all-women anti-poaching squads is in Zimbabwe, where an extraordinary group of local women are part of a project called Akashinga or the "Brave Ones." The women are trained and enlisted by a former Australian special forces sniper named Damien Mander, who is also the founder of the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF). In early 2017, the IAPF was called for help with conservation efforts in the Lower Zambezi ecosystem, where poaching reduced the number of elephants by 40 percent since 2001. In response, Mr. Mander established Akashinga after taking inspiration from the Black Mambas, the world's first all-women (unarmed) anti-poaching squad from South Africa. The selection for the project was opened solely to underprivileged women, such as jobless single mothers, prostitutes, victims of physical and sexual abuse, wives of imprisoned poachers, and widows and orphans, in order to make an opportunity for the most unsafe women in Zimbabwe's rural society. The experimental project began with 16 women and is entering its second phase with 35 women who are now part of the program.
Damien Mander the founder of IAPF and creator of Akashinga

I'm very amazed to find that women are being recruited to take part in the continuous battle against illegal poaching. Many of these women had a very miserable life in their local community, and have now found an opportunity to do something honest with their life and keep them safe from any physical or emotional harm. The women who are part of Akashinga have given a remarkable performance in the project's special-forces training program. That is, according to Mr. Mander, 36 women were pushed much harder than men during training; out of which only three dropped out. Furthermore, an IAPF spokesperson added that the women have proven to be more effective at demobilizing situations instead of antagonizing them. This goes to show that women are just as good as men in handling the pressure and danger of being out in the front lines against poachers when protecting the endangered wildlife. I firmly believe that empowering women is the single best technique for positive change in the world, and this includes employing women to combat poaching. I really think that countries around the world should follow Zimbabwe's example in enlisting women, particularly from rural communities, in the ongoing battle against poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. Women empowerment through skills development and sustainable employment in rural communities can bring many benefits, such as heightened life expectancy through better access to healthcare, more children able to engage in education, support for regional businesses, and an ample economy. If the women of Zimbabwe are able to participate in training and learn skills to fulfill the role of a male ranger, then so can other women.

View article and video here     

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Can a DNA Database Help Stop Rhino Poaching and Trafficking of Rhino Horns?

A southern white rhinoceros in South Africa

The Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), which holds genetic proof collected from crime scenes and serial offenders, is known to help police officers catch criminals. Now, according to a study published in the journal Current Biology, an identical DNA database known as the Rhino DNA Index System (RhODIS) is helping connect international rhino horn traffickers to a poaching scene. Researchers say that it contains data from about 5,800 crime cases related to rhino poaching since 2010 and more than 120 case reports built from its data have helped investigators link between the poachers and evidence, such as carcasses and horns. A research team led by Cindy Harper, director of Pretoria University's Veterinary Genetics Laboratory, one case included three horns from two rhino carcasses led to a 29-year sentence. According to Stephen O'Brien, a co-author of the new study, Ms. Harper trained the whole anti-poaching staff to not just gather materials from poached animals but also enter them into an iPad and a small program designed by RhODIS that gets uploaded into the database as soon as they come within WiFi range. He further added that it is extremely essential to consider the possibility of unrelated DNA becoming a genetic match to crime scene evidence. This is called "match probability," and Dr. O'Brien pointed out that prosecutors should prove that match probability is very low in order to win a case. A good lawyer would end up saying that the match of rhino DNA to DNA on seized items held by a criminal "was just by chance" if the match probability was high. To overcome this obstacle, Dr. O'Brien recruited a team of twenty programmers from St. Petersburg State University's Theodosius Dobzhansky Center for Genome Bioinformatics. The study showed that the programmers designed a statistical model for utilization of match probability statistics, and indicated that the probability of a chance match is "on the order of one in a million."

I find it to be very impressive that a tool used to hold genetic evidence is being used in the battle against rhino poaching and the illegal smuggling of rhino horns. The RhODIS has received much praise for being able to hold a vast amount of data from numerous rhino poaching cases and research labs in South Africa to build more than 120 case reports to help connect poachers and evidence in the form of rhino carcasses and horns. According to Bas Huijbregts, World Wildlife Fund's African species manager, South Africa has given the system attention and noted evidence from it in the country's courts. This shows that the RhODIS is helping in painting a picture of global criminal networks. It is said that Kenya also implemented the technique and other countries in southern Africa, including Botswana and Zimbabwe, have started doing the same. Mr. Huijbregts further added, however, that more effort is needed to combat rhino poaching and the illegal trafficking of rhino horns. I, too, believe that the public should step in to help put a stop to poaching of rhinos and trafficking of their horns, especially in China and Vietnam where rhino products are sold to the growing middle-income classes. The combination of DNA technology and public effort would really help slow down and ultimately put an end to poaching and illegal trafficking of rhinos and other endangered species. Members of law enforcement agencies, conservation and animal specialist groups, and research institutes alone cannot put a stop to this ongoing crisis. It is very crucial the global public should help the authorities by recognizing the problem and acting upon it.

View article and video here 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Take a Selfie With an Elephant, Lose Your Life

An elephant herd crossing a road before a crowd of people.

In India, the elephant is highly regarded by the public as a living embodiment of Ganesha, the god of prosperity, attainment, and wisdom. Therefore, any form of harm attributed to the elephant is strictly frowned upon. However, despite having a religious and cultural standing, the relationship between India's elephants and people has always been uneasy. This can be seen through incidences of elephants venturing into human settlements, resulting in human-elephant conflicts where the results are tragic for both people and elephants. Even during religious festivals, elephants have been known to turn violent at any given moment and attack anyone or anything in their way.  But lately, in the state of Orissa, there have been growing incidences of local people taking selfies with wild elephants leading to attacks with few killed as a consequence. One of these incidents occurred in December when Jaykrushna Nayak was returning home from a village market and sighted a large crowd in his village gathering around an elephant, taking photos and provoking it. He joined the crowd and tried to take a selfie with the elephant, when the infuriated animal wrapped its trunk around him and trampled him to death in front of everyone. Mr. Nayak was one of several people to have died for committing such a foolish and life-threatening act. In September, an elephant killed a security guard named Ashok Bharati who tried to take a selfie with it after getting too close to the animal. The incident, which was captured on video by some bystanders, showed Mr. Bharati inching closer and closer to the elephant, when the animal suddenly charged at him. Mr. Bharati tried to escape, but was beaten and crushed, eventually dying on the way to the hospital. The video of his death went viral.
A group of young men attempting to what appears to be enticing the elephants for selfie.

Other selfie-takers managed to escape with their lives, but suffered severe injuries. One such example was seen in the case of Abhishek Nayak, an engineering student who was rushed to the hospital after being wounded by an elephant while trying to take a selfie with it. Six months later, he is still being treated for the serious injuries he suffered to his neck and stomach. According to Sandeep Tripathy, the chief wildlife warden of the state, the government of Orissa is taking this issue seriously by planning to set up "mock drills and special campaigns in sensitive districts to raise awareness" about the risk of getting too close to elephants. The government data has shown that 60 people have been killed by elephants in Orissa, but it is not clear how many have died due to a selfie. However, officials are concerned that the total number could increase because of the trend for selfies with the elephants. Wildlife expert Biswajit Mohanty indicated that the selfie craze has been intensified by the fact that a lack of food has compelled elephants out of the forests and into the towns and villages in search of food. This, in turn, leads to people getting excited on seeing the elephants in which they start taking photos of themselves with the animals, and ultimately end up being attacked. B.N Mishra, a forest range officer, pointed out that the flash from people's cameras provokes the elephants to attack. He further added that despite the efforts made to fight such incidences by organizing meetings with local residents, the people are simply being ignorant and not taking it seriously. Another forest officer named Ratnakar Das stated that he would frequently see people in the area attracting elephants with sugarcane, in order to take a selfie.
These brainless fellows are risking their lives trying to entice these animals for such a life-threatening stunt. 

I cannot think of anything more insane and life-threatening than a bunch of mindless people risking their lives trying to take selfies with elephants. These brainless individuals do not understand the meaning of respecting one's space when it comes to something as big and unpredictable as elephants. But what really aggravates me is that these people are not taking the advice and warning from wildlife personnel about the dangers of taking selfies with elephants seriously. This is another reason people in Orissa are constantly getting attacked, injured, and killed by elephants. How can you coexist peacefully with a wild animal like an elephant without following rules and guidelines provided by wildlife experts and various organizations who are doing what they can to help you stay safe from such animals? It is downright outrageous and senseless that such people choose not to listen to what experts say about what they are doing and ultimately never live to regret their mistakes. I urge the people of Orissa and other states in India where there are elephants to please not continue this dangerous game of taking selfies with the animals. If you care so much about your life and the well-being of elephants, then don't do it. Instead, I suggest the people of Orissa and other elephant-range states to collaborate with wildlife experts and conservation organizations in benefiting the elephants by protecting their habitats from poaching and deforestation, and further expanding their habitats to give the animals more space to roam. But most of all, they should seriously participate in workshops aimed at reducing human-elephant conflict in the country and follow the rules and guidelines from experts on how to peacefully coexist with the elephants.

View article and video here   

Monday, January 8, 2018

Can Declaring a River as a Dolphin Sanctuary Help Save Bangladesh's River Dolphins?

A dead Ganges river dolphin found in the Hathazari area.

The Halda River in Bangladesh is known for being a breeding ground for Indian carps in the country. The fish are a valuable source of food to residents living in and around the river. But not all residents are human; this 50-mile stretch of water is also home to the endangered Ganges river dolphin. Unfortunately, the dolphins are under severe threat from anthropogenic factors ranging from excessive pollution and utilization of dredgers for lifting river sand to the use of motorized boats. As a result, as many as fifteen dolphins have died in the last three months in the Halda River. Among those dolphins, one weighed around 70 kilograms and was found on January 5, while another weighed around 80 kilograms and was found on January 3. Both the dolphins were discovered floating in the same river and had sustained injuries on their bodies. The Halda River Research Laboratory indicated that the current number of dolphins in Bangladesh will not surpass 1,200. Out of the total number, approximately 250 dolphins are found in the Halda River. According to Professor Mohammed Manzoorul Kibria, a leading Halda River researcher from University of Chittagong, the rapid reduction in dolphin numbers in the river is a matter of serious concern. He called for urgent steps to conserve the river dolphins, which includes declaring Halda River as a dolphin sanctuary and halting random dredging without delay. Professor Saidur Rahman Chowdhary of Chittagong University's Institute of Marine Sciences and Fisheries added that pollution as a result of untreated solid and liquid waste from households and industrial units is threatening the Halda River's ecological balance. In addition, he called for a ban on using gill nets for fishing. A report by the Chittagong Department of Environment last year showed that untreated drainage released from various households and industrial units were polluting the river. It also indicated twelve recommendations to save the river from pollution, which included designating the dredging spots since random sand lifting increases the level of turbidity and enforcing a ban on motorized boats during the migration and spawning season of the fish.
A Ganges river dolphin leaping out of water

I really feel it is highly crucial to take necessary steps to save the dolphins of the Halda River. These animals are known for being bio-indicators, and their number in any aquatic area shows whether that area is polluted or not. The pollution in the Halda River not only affects the dolphins, but also the fish. Because the river is the largest breeding ground for Indian carps, both the dolphins and people rely on the river for survival. The ongoing dredging and disposal of untreated waste has affected and continues to affect the carp population. If this goes on, it will certainly affect the livelihood, health, and survival of the local people living in the vicinity of the river as well as further endangering the dolphins' lives. I think in order to stop the further impact of pollution, various households and industrial units should undergo significant improvement so that the waste does not end up in the river untreated. In addition, fishermen should be provided with a harmless alternative to gill net fishing and encouraged to use it in order to save the dolphins. But most of all, I believe it is essential to declare Halda River as a river dolphin sanctuary. One such example is seen in the state of Bihar, India, where a dolphin sanctuary was established on a 50-km stretch of the Ganges River. If India is able to establish a sanctuary for river dolphins, Bangladesh can too. Doing so would ensure the dolphins' survival through initiatives directed at curbing pollution caused by random dredging and uncontrolled waste disposal, and overfishing.

View article here               

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Should Other Countries Follow China's Example in Banning the Illegal Ivory Trade?

Elephants

The government of Tanzania and conservation organizations have recently applauded China's decision to ban the illegal ivory trade, indicating that the action gave hope for the future of Africa's elephants. According to Major General Gaudence Milanzi, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, China's attempts, including the prohibition on all trade in ivory and its products, have helped reduce poaching levels in the country. He congratulated the Chinese government for the move which showed the global community that China was serious to end the ivory trade and protect the elephants, and urged other countries to do the same. Other government officials who praised China for its anti-ivory trade efforts included January Makamba, Minister of State in the Vice-President's Office responsible for the Environment, who credited China for its consistency in its leadership in climate change and other critical international issues. The State Forestry Administration of China has stated that the country has recognized its obligation to ceasing commercial processing and sales of ivory by the end of 2017. The administration also assured that China's authorities will continue to curb ivory collection, along with sales, preparing, smuggling, and transportation of elephant tusks. The affection has affected 34 processing companies and 143 authorized trading venues, with all of them to shut down, in the world's once largest ivory market.
January Makamba was one of several Tanzanian politicians who applauded China's ban on ivory trade.

I find this to be an incredibly good news that China has decided to put its foot down on the illegal trade of ivory. The country had long been viewed as the largest ivory market by conservation groups with several enterprises processing smuggled elephant ivory for public consumption. But now, it appears that China has changed its image by living up to its promise and banning the ivory trade. This means severe reduction in ivory prices which in turn results into a significant drop in Africa's elephant poaching. In addition, China also pledged that it will continue to combat and suppress the smuggling, transportation, processing, and sales of elephant ivory. This move has been applauded by various members of the Tanzanian government, including former President Benjamin Mkapa, who urged other countries around the world to follow China's example. I very much feel it is highly crucial that many other countries should emulate what China has done to save the elephants. A recent report by wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, with the support of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), indicated that Japan is one of the largest markets of domestic ivory and has an active, though declining, ivory producing industry. It also mentioned that 2.42 tonnes of ivory, including tusks, antiques, and jewelry, were illegally smuggled from the country between 2011 and 2016. Tomomi Kitade, the report's co-author, stated that their findings showed that Japan's predominantly  uncontrolled domestic ivory is contributing to the illegal trade and it is necessary that the country's role in the global illegal ivory trade be recognized. Japan is not the only country involved in the illegal ivory trade; the U.S under the Trump administration recently announced that it will lift the ban on importing elephant ivory into the country from Africa causing widespread outrage amongst animal rights and environmental groups. The governments of the U.S and other countries should recognize the connection between the illegal ivory trade and terrorism. This is seen as African militant groups like the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), Al-Shabaab, and Janjaweed benefit financially from elephant ivory as it provides them access to arms and ammunition to carry out their carnage against both local people and foreigners. This is not just a matter of global conservation of endangered species, but also of international security. I urge other countries across the world to follow suit, in order to put an end to the international illegal ivory trade.

View article here