Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cheetah Highlights Middle East's Illegal Animal Trade


Earlier this month, a cheetah had caused widespread panic as it was seen walking the streets of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. Thankfully, it was safely caught and then placed in an animal shelter. However, the presence of this magnificent creature wondering about in civilization highlighted the thriving market for exotic pets. Cheetahs, along with falcons, had been prized by royalty as hunters for centuries. But now, this century-old tradition has been stretching too far such that the animals are deprived of their natural habitats. In addition to that, Middle East has become a hotspot for the illegal animal trade. According to Mohamed Elsayed, Middle East program officer for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), other animals that are illegally smuggled into the region include chimpanzees, bush babies, tortoises, bears, pythons, and birds of prey. Many are said to arrive from Somalia. He further added that the supply of such exotic animals could put people at risk from animal-borne diseases, as well as raise animal welfare concerns. John Sellar, a former Scottish police officer who now works as a chief of enforcement for U.N's CITES body, stated that the Persian Gulf has been a key route for the animal trade despite international bans. This is seen as several countries have signed up to CITES. However, three others are left to join. Bahrain is expected to join within twelve months, which leaves Iraq and Lebanon. In addition to that, the illegal operation still continue despite the improvement in the situation. Dr. Elsayed stated that there is lack of awareness among the public that wild animals belong in the wild.

I also feel the same way as Dr. Elsayed, in which there should be public awareness concerning the lives of animals that are illegally smuggled into the Middle East as pets. Not only do these animals raise concerns regarding welfare, but also diseases which could be deadly to humans. One possible malady could be monkeypox, which has hit U.S since 2003 when giant pouched rats were brought into the country as exotic pets from Africa. The top three states having record-breaking cases include Illinois with 19, Indiana with 24, and Wisconsin with 44. Giant pouched rats are just one of the invasive species notorious for spreading zoonotic diseases, but there are also other animals infested with such disease. I personally feel that several Middle Eastern countries who have partnered up with CITES should tighten their securities, in order to curb down this illegal practice for the safety of both people and animals. Furthermore, there should also be a public awareness in reaching out and educating the citizens regarding the animal trade and its dangers. That way, it will help accelerate the movement against the exotic pet trade in the region.

View article here      

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Ganges River Cleanup Project to Increase the River Dolphin Population

Ganges River Dolphin

Recently, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh announced that the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) is planning to take action in cleaning up the mighty Ganges River in order to revive the river dolphin population. These magnificent species of river dolphins have been badly affected, due to poaching, excessive pollution, and dam-building over the years. According to Dr. Sandeep Behera, a senior coordinator for WWF India, the plan to clean the river is going to be done with a partnership between the Dolphin Action Plan and the Ganges Action Plan (GAP). The federal government has proposed to all industries along the river's banks and its tributaries to recycle their waste water. The central pollution control board has already shut down 56 tanneries along the river. However, Dr. Behera also pointed out other causes of the dolphin population depletion which included several rotting carcasses and less outflow of water due to dams. He further added that all dams will be asked to periodically release a specific volume of water according to the level required to maintain the dolphins' habitat. The primary sources of pollutants in focus include Hardwar, Garmukteshwar, Kanpur, and Allahabad. Statistics have shown that the river dolphin population in India is at 1800 animals, compared to 5000 in 1982. Dr. Behera and others hope that this plan will help boost the population back up to that level.

I feel proud to see that India is taking action in helping its river dolphin population. This strange and unique mammal has played a major role in the Hindu mythology as a vahana to the goddess Ganga, a godly personification of the Ganges. In addition to that, these animals are also play a key role in the river's ecosystem as indicators of clean water. That is, where they are found in the river, it shows that particular spot is clean to support other wildlife. The river itself is also sacred to India's people, who flock there to wash away their sins and pray to gods. Without the river dolphin, the wildlife in the Ganges River and its tributaries will further fluctuate due to ongoing pollution and would end up polluted such that no one would set a foot inside even for a simple prayer ritual. Also, every monsoon season is the time when the river floods. But once the floods recede, they leave behind silt which nourishes a fertile haven for wildlife. In other words, many wild animals living along the Ganges owe their existence to the river. If the Ganges remains polluted, the wildlife will not survive in the coming generations. In addition to wildlife, people also rely on the river for irrigation. This is why I feel it is very important to save and protect our mighty river from being further polluted.

View article here

Elephant Seals at Point Reyes National Seashore

An elephant seal colony at Chimney Rock

By the docks
This male elephant seal is bellowing to show who's boss

Recently, I had visited a nearby attraction from my hometown called Point Reyes National Seashore. This astonishing and unique place is home to some of the most interesting wildlife native to California. One particular creature that makes its home here is the northern elephant seal. These are some of the most gigantic seals in our world. They are named for their unusual nose, which resembles an elephant's trunk. During their breeding season, which lasts from November to April, these seals haul out along the beaches where there is a stiff competition to mate. It is a time when the air echoes with roars and bellows, as the males let each other know where they are and how tough they are. If one is lucky, he/she could catch a glimpse of two evenly-matched males shoving each other back and forth until one of them retreats. In Point Reyes, one of the prime hotspots to find elephant seals is Chimney Rock. During my visit there, I could hear the deep rumbling bellows of these great beasts but I never saw a fight scene between two males. Nevertheless, it was an amazing experience to be out and capture some interesting images of these animals. Hope you all enjoy.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Environmental Group to File Lawsuit Concerning Gray Wolf Restoration

Gray wolf

Recently, environmentalists stated on Tuesday that they intend to sue the Obama Administration in order to force it to restore the nation's gray wolf population across the U.S mainland. One particular environmental group, the Center for Biological Diversity, had sent a notice to the Interior Department saying that it would sue the agency within three months unless the federal government will devise a plan to bring the wolves back to their historical range. Biologists for this group argued that there is enough habitat to support thousands of wolves in New England, New York, the southern Rocky Mountains, parts of Colorado, and the Cascade Range in Oregon and Washington. However, the possibilities for this plan are uncertain due to the polarized debate of wolves in recent months.

After the Bush Administration, the Obama Administration sought to strip the wolves off their endangered species status and let the states to control their populations. One of the supporters for this idea was Senator Mike Crapo, a Republican from Idaho. He stated that the growing numbers of wolves are threatening the domestic livestock and big game herds in the northern Rockies. He, along with Republicans from Wyoming and Utah, attempted to back up the bill intended to remove the wolves from the endangered species list. Unfortunately, the bill failed because of Democratic objections. One of the advocates against this Republican bill is Senator Benjamin Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland. He believes this this bill would undermine the Endangered Species Act. According to Noah Greenwald, the director of the Center for Biological Diversity, the wolves have a tremendous benefit from where they were reintroduced. They keep the herds of elk on the move, which allows riparian vegetation to reform and increases the population of songbirds. Also, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service is currently analyzing the research in wolf genetics to see how populations in different parts of the nation relate to one another. Chris Tollefson, the agency's spokesman, stated that this effort is not part of the national recovery plan but could be used in the future. He further added that its results are expected by early 2011.

I'm very impressed to see such an environmental group is taking a stand against the de-listing of gray wolves in the U.S. Also, I'm proud to see one of the arguments provided by Senator Cardin concerning the animals' current state is supported by science and not politics. One of the points in this article that struck me is how wolves are beneficial to the nation's ecosystem. By keeping the elk on the move, they are contributing to the reformation of riparian vegetation in their habitat which leads to an increase in songbird population. This, in a sense, goes to show that wolves are a keystone species that play an important role for other wild animals. I also feel that it would be useful to bring wolves back in their former historical habitats. Some of these places like New England and New York for instance are home to only one "dominant" species of animal: the black bear. Although it's diet consists of meat matter, the black bear feeds mostly on vegetation. This means that the local deer population in the eastern U.S has flourished dramatically, and needs to be maintained efficiently. And wolves are the only animals left to take on such a task after the disappearance of the eastern cougar. Also, in places like Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, the cougar has established itself as a dominant predator but like the wolf, it is also persecuted for nuisance. I personally feel that with both of these predators, the herbivore population would be kept thoroughly in check and the ecological balance would be maintained strongly.

View article here

Kenya Experiences Rise in Rhino Poaching

A rhino pair

The year 2010 has seen some of the worst cases of wildlife poaching in the world. But none have been making regular headlines than South Africa. The nation has experienced a massive surge in poaching of wild rhinos, causing a massive drop of populations almost to the point where the animals would be labeled as EW (Extinct in the Wild). Wildlife conservationists and park rangers have stated that the catalysts to such a bloody and ruthless massacre have been high-tech poaching syndicates, who would target the animals from helicopters and gun them down. Even worse is that the members consist of veterinarians, who supply tranquilizer darts which makes the process seem like it is some sort of a scientific expedition intended to study the rhinos. This has made the situation difficult for authorities, as they try to plan tactics in order to save their local rhino population.

While South Africa has suffered drastically due to its rampant poaching of rhinos, another nation now appears to be next in line: Kenya. The spot where rhino poaching has been going rampant is Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. This 25,000-hectare wildlife sanctuary lies 140 miles north of Nairobi, and is one of the last rhino sanctuaries in Kenya; home to 64 black rhinos and 53 white rhinos. It was established in 1995 by a family of white Kenyans, and has been renowned for its rhino protection work such that it is often described as a model conservancy in wildlife protection circles. According to John Pameri, the sanctuary's head of security and chief ranger, four rhinos had been killed in the past twelve months along with fifteen elephants in the past two weeks. The main driver of the poaching activities is the illegal trade of rhino horns in China. Kenya has been witnessing an increase of Chinese nationals, which allows some rangers to make a link regarding the illegal trade. Lewa's manager Jonathan Moss stated that in response to any poaching threat, the reserve has set up a program consisting of night patrols, air surveillance, network of informers, and even the involvement of local communities. However, Mr. Moss also believes that that the only solution that would put an end to further poaching activities would be to address the illegal demand in the Far East.

I completely agree with Mr. Moss concerning the surge of rhino poaching in Kenya. While it is easy to combat illegal poaching through night patrols, surveillance, and community involvement, the biggest solution would be to address the Far East which is notorious for the illegal demand of endangered species. Earlier this year, South Africa had formed an alliance with Vietnam in order to combat rhino poaching. This news went to show how South Africa was taking a tough stand against poaching, yet there has not been any recent news concerning the current state of the nation's rhino population. But I personally feel that it is important to consider that other eastern countries are known for specializing in the illegal trade of rhino horns. An example shown in this article was China. I believe that the best solution for both Kenya and South Africa would be to forge an alliance with not just one but other Asian countries concerning the demand for rhino horns. That way, the poaching of rhinos in both of these African countries will cease to exist.

View article here     

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Poaching Threatens Brunei's Clouded Leopards

A dead Bornean clouded leopard in Brunei

Recently, scholars in Brunei are calling a stop to the illegal poaching Bornean clouded leopards for the illegal wildlife. The nation has witnessed several reports regarding the hunting and killing of this highly endangered and elusive feline in Kg Merangking of Belait District. According to Dr. Ang Bee Bian, a project administrator of a faunal biodiversity survey called Sg Ingei Expedition, the cat is known worldwide as an endangered species. The researcher further added that it would be beneficial if people were aware of the animal's conservation status, as it would help them understand about the importance of protecting and preserving the species. The leader of Sg Ingei Expedition named Dr. Joseph Charles, who is also the senior lecturer at University of Brunei Darussalem's Biology Department, also felt that hunting and slaughtering of the clouded leopard should be halted.

I feel the same way as Dr. Ang and Dr. Charles regarding the Bornean clouded leopard's future. This elusive feline was classified as a genetically distant species from the regular clouded leopard in 2006. Its discovery was a goldmine for scientists and researchers, as with any other newly discovered species. If the rampant poaching continues, then the Bornean clouded leopard will be gone and the entire rainforest ecosystem will suffer major ecological imbalance. I also feel that it would be best for Brunei's people to learn about the importance of this cat in the nation's rainforests, as well as stronger law enforcement. There are several other tropical nations where people are learning about various endangered species' ecological importance as a way of protecting them, and Brunei should do the same. That way, the Bornean clouded leopard will continue to flourish and be studied.

View article here

Slow Lorises Highlight Indonesia's Need for Stronger Enforcement

Slow Loris

Wildlife activists in Indonesia had recently announced that they had found eighteen endangered Sunda slow lorises being sold openly in Jakarta. The discovery was made just a day before government officials and conservationists held a seminar, which teaches about the threats these primitive cute-looking primates are facing. It was organized by International Animal Rescue Indonesia, which has identified the illegal wildlife trade as the chief contributor to the animals' decline in the wild and for high rate of premature death in captivity. According to TRAFFIC, its staff had discovered that the animals were displayed in cages in front of the Jatinegara Market in East Jakarta on December 10th. The wildlife trade monitoring network also further added that one cage contained six lorises packed together. TRAFFIC Southeast Asia's deputy regional director Chris R. Shepherd stated that the lack of law enforcement is the main problem for the species' decline. He further added that the only loris protected under the Indonesian law was the Javan slow loris, which has listed as the nations 25 most endangered primates since 2008. The other two subspecies include the Malay and Borneo slow loris. The trade in all three of these lorises is prohibited under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which was accepted by Indonesia but not ratified.

I completely feel the same way as Mr. Shepherd regarding the protection of these unique primates. Indonesia really has to strengthen its law enforcement, in order to protect this species and prevent further decline. In my opinion, the first step would be for the nation's government to ratify the prohibition in the trade of these primates. However, that will still not stop the operators of the illegal wildlife trade from doing what they do best. The key is to have stronger law enforcement, along with public education in knowing the importance of species' role in Indonesia's jungle ecosystem. If the slow loris disappears, then it will lead to major ecological imbalance such as overpopulation of insects which these primates feed on. Without the loris and any other creature that plays an important role in Indonesia's jungles, life will be turned upside-down.

View article here

Friday, December 17, 2010

Egypt's Crocodiles Under Threat of Poaching

Nile crocodile

In recent months, Egypt has witnessed a spike in the illegal poaching of crocodiles allowing with reports which led people to believe that the reptiles have been stripped off the nation's protected species list. The rampant onslaught of poaching of these animals had first reached its peak during the 1950s. However, the construction of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s was seen as a road to recovery for this highly treasured creature of the Egyptian civilization. From then on, the population of Egypt's crocodile slowly and slowly grew and was relatively undisturbed from human activities. But now, it appears that things have changed. According to Ashraf Salem of the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA), there has been a lot of evidence seen of these gigantic reptiles in which the adults were slaughtered for their belly skins and hatchlings were caught and sold to Arabs and foreigners. Salem's scientific survey has estimated that there are currently about 3,000 crocodiles in Lake Nasser. However, this vast and remote reservoir has become a target for poachers due to lack of police surveillance. The EEAA estimates that up to 400 crocodiles are illegally slaughtered for their skins and around 3,000 hatchlings are smuggled out of the country. Even worse was that early in the decade, the government had laid plans to raise the reptiles on ranches for their skins and meat as a scheme to exploit the economic value of the lake's crocodile population.
Lake Nasser

The cause for this sudden spike began when Egypt successfully transferred the crocodile from Appendix I to Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) last March. Although this designation saved the crocodile from ranching, it created a widespread confusion regarding the animal's protection status. As a result, many started killing, capturing, and trading the crocodiles even though the nation's environmental laws forbid these gruesome practices. Among the culprits besides poachers include fishermen, who would act as guides for visiting hunting parties. However, this is something which EEAA does not approve. Mahmoud Hasseb, the agency's director of South Area Protectorates, states that crocodiles in Lake Nasser are important regarding the ecosystem and only attack if they feel threatened. Since the creation of Lake Nasser more than forty years ago, there had been less than ten documented cases of crocodile attacks on people.

I very much agree with Mr. Hasseb regarding the crocodile's role in Egypt's ecosystem. The reptiles are the dominant predators of Egypt's freshwater ecosystems, and without them, the wildlife surrounding Lake Nasser would change dramatically. Also, these reptiles had been highly revered by ancient Egyptians for thousands of years. One of their gods, Sobek, has a crocodile's head and it was believed that his sweat created the mighty Nile River. But as time progressed, crocodiles were seen more as savage beasts rather than descendants of almighty gods from the days of ancient Egypt. However, even though these animals look dangerous, it is important to remember that they are essential in keeping the balance in the nation's freshwater habitats. I personally feel that the Egyptian government should heighten its security in protecting these magnificent creatures, and educate the local fishermen about their roles and come up with some solutions in order to avoid getting into encounters with them. Furthermore, strong police surveillance should be implemented around Lake Nasser to prevent further losses of crocodiles in the bloodthirsty hands of poachers.

View article here     

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Wild Polar Bears Under Threat of Hybridization with Grizzly Bears

A possible grizzly/polar bear hybrid

A recent study has shown that the rapid loss of sea ice in the Arctic is leading to a formation of hybrids between polar bears and grizzly bears. Scientists believe that the reduction of an area covered by floating sea ice is forcing the polar bear to come into contact with its forest-dwelling relative, which could threaten the gene pool between the two distinctive species. The first polar-grizzly hybrid spotted in the wild was in 2006. In appearance, the creature was white with brown patches. DNA tests confirmed that it was a result of hybridization between the two species. The most recent sighting was earlier this year when a hybrid was killed by hunter in the western Canadian Arctic, and tests showed that it was a second-generation hybrid. That is, its parents were a hybrid female and a pure-bred male grizzly bear.

Scientists also believe that there are probably more cases of these bizarre hybrids out there because of change in behavior of polar bears brought by climate change. They would spend more time on shore waiting for ice to form, in turn bringing them into close contact with grizzlies. One study led by Dr. Brendan Kelly of Juneau's U.S National Marine Mammal Laboratory discovered 34 possible hybridizations, out of which 22 cases involved isolated population at risk of intermixing. According to Dr. Kelly and his colleagues, it is predicted that the Arctic Ocean will loose its ice in summer before the end of the century, removing a vast icy barrier and leading to interbreeding between the two bears. Furthermore, scientists say that the extent of this hybridization could have major implications on polar bears. For example, zoologists in a German zoo had found that polar-grizzly bear hybrids lack strong swimming abilities associated with polar bears which they use when roaming vast stretches of the Arctic during winter months to hunt seals. Also, Dr. Andrew Whiteley of the University of Massachusetts stated that hybridization can cause loss of biodiversity in which distinct lineages that have evolved over millenia become mixed.

This report, in my opinion, sends a clear message of why we should join together to fight global warming. The melting polar ice caps are forcing the polar bears further inland where they are usually never be found. This has been leading to them to come into contact with their distant relatives, grizzly bears, and resulting in hybrids. Normally, hybrids like these would be seen in captivity. Seeing a polar-grizzly bear hybrid out in the wild is like seeing a liger which is also seen in captivity. Although these creations are natural features of the evolution, they do tend to not have certain characteristics which regular pure-bred animals have. For example, polar bears have the ability to swim long distances in search of seals which polar-grizzly bears do not. If this hybridization continues, then the polar bear or the grizzly bear may be gone forever and only the hybrids will remain. Also, in addition to these bear hybrids, there have been reports of a narwhal-beluga whale hybrid along with one that is part bowhead whale and part right whale. Both of these animals, too, may lack certain characteristics which are usually associated with either one of the pure-bred whales. All of these animals need to be protected in such a way that would not result into any hybridization. And with climate change as the main culprit, one way to prevent this problem would be to reverse the greenhouse gas emissions within the next ten years.

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Invasive Plant Threatens Nepal's Chitwan National Park

Indian rhinoceros being observed by tourists in Chitwan National Park

Recently, conservationists have stated that the Chitwan National Park in Nepal is under threat from an invasive plant species known as Micania Micrantha. This foreign invader, which hails from South America, is notorious for destroying the park's native ecosystem by smothering, choking, and pulling over native plants. It was thought to have been introduced in southern Asia during World War II as a form of camouflage for military bunkers in India. It was later used on tea plantations to conceal exposed strips of soil, in order to prevent erosion. It was first reported in Nepal in 1966. The plant, though edible to herbivores, is nutritionally deficient compared to Nepal's native plants which sustain Chitwan's rhino population. According to Naresh Subedi, a biologist working for the National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC), the plant has engulfed more than a third of the national park and can cause soil erosion which will have a devastating impact on the wildlife. A single plant can produce between 20,000 and 40,000 seeds, which can be dispersed by wind, and the shoots are said to grow up to 2.7 centimeters per day. World Wildlife Fund (WWF) conservationist Rinjan Shrestha, who is working on a national plan to control the spread of this plant, stated that India is conducting experiments with a fungus that poisons the plant. But he acknowledged that it is going to be difficult, as no reliable method for killing it without hurting the native plants has been found yet.
Micania Micrantha

I sure hope that the WWF, along with biologists and conservationists, will come up with a technique in keeping this invasive species' population in control. While this plant does not seem to be inedible to rhinos and other herbivorous animals in Chitwan National Park, it is infamous for causing soil erosion. Hearing about this foreign plant in the Indian subcontinent, made me think about another South American plant called the water hyacinth. This water plant is particularly common in ponds and lakes in India, especially in Kaziranga National Park. There, animals such as rhinos and buffaloes would be seen grazing on these succulent plants in waterholes. However, being an invasive plant, I wonder how the water hyacinth's population is kept under control. Does it involve any work from local conservationists and biologists? Or do the animals themselves keep the plant's population in check?

View article here

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Indian Environmental Activists Risk Death in Exposing Illegal Activities

Amit Jetwa, an environmental activist who was killed on July this year after exposing Gir Forest's illegal limestone mining

India has been viewed as a land of cultural and natural beauty. It is also one of the few biologically diverse places in this world that house a rich variety of wildlife found nowhere else. Part of this unique diversity are several wildlife habitats, which include dry deciduous forests, dense tropical forests, harsh deserts, majestic snow-covered mountains, lush wetlands, and coral-rich seas. However, many of these biomes are at great risk of exploitation by people. Which is why environmental activists have stepped in to uncover illegal activities by various groups specializing in mining, logging, and other environmental catastrophes. However, many of these activists risk life and limb when exposing these malicious acts.

One recent incident occurred on July 20th 2010 when forest campaigner Amit Jetwa was brutally assassinated outside the Gujarat High Court by two assailants on motorcycles. Mr. Jetwa was famous for being involved in Gir Forest National Park, and exposing its illegal limestone mining. His efforts resulted with a special posthumous award. Before his death, Mr. Jetwa had filed a lawsuit against against the mining activities around the buffer zone of the national park. He had been strongly active in standing up for India's environment issues. One of his well-known past attempts was taking on Bollywood actor and heartthrob Salman Khan for illegally shooting a blackbuck. However, his actions led to strong enmity from the Indian government according to his friend and environmental lawyer Manish Vaidya. His family and friends had even stated that he had been getting threats ever since he began investigating mining operations in and around Gir Forest.

Mr. Jetwa's death was one of the many brutal incidents against activists. In January 2010, Satish Shetty, a whistle-blower and anti-corruption campaigner was murdered when he exposed light land scams in Maharashtra. In 2005, a marketing manager named Shanmughan Manjunath was killed after exposing gasoline pumps that sold adulterated fuel. In the words of activists, the image of India as a nation that gives environmental issues a top priority is overshadowed with bleakness. One of the contributions to the lives of Indian activists at risk is lack of police support. A classic case for this issue was seen in March 2010 when Sumaira Abdulali, a trustee of an environmental NGO called Awaaz Foundation, was pursued, threatened, and beaten by mafia connected to illegal sand mining in Maharashtra. After that, she and her team went down to an ecologically sensitive creek area where the sand mining occurring to photograph the activities. Later, they were followed by thugs who followed them for about ten kilometers until the team was met with a truck parked in the center of a truck. The truck tried to push the car containing the members of Ms. Abdulali's team, but were intervened by two police officers at the scene. Unfortunately, they attacked Ms. Abdulali and her team instead of placing arrests on the people involved in their attempted murder.

The second major aspect is government corruption. This reason appeared in a recent report by a campaign group called Reporters without Borders, which threw light in a growing number of attacks on activists and journalists who investigate industrial deforestation and pollution. It claimed that government officials corrupted by money from logging or mining were often behind these attacks and threats. One person who supported this report was J.P Dabral, president of the Himalayan Chipko Foundation, which has uncovered illegal logging in India's Himalaya region. Mr. Dabral asserted that local villagers cut a small number of trees, but the timber mafia abuses that policy and takes 200-300 trunks thanks to acceptance by government officials. Also, state officials have often been accused of curbing any environmental damage investigation. One incident involved a journalist named Shubranshu Choudhary, who tried to investigate pollution coming from mines operated by the National Mineral Development Corporation. Unfortunately, his efforts were foiled by police and local authorities who refused to allow him to enter indigenous villages affected by the pollution. There were even instances when law enforcers were the perpetrators of these environmental crimes. This was seen in the story of Samir Mehta. Mehta, who previously worked as an activist with the Bombay Environmental Action Group, exposed that municipal councillors indulged in an illegal construction in the hill station (town) of Matheran which was declared an "eco-sensitive zone" in 2003. In retaliation, the councillors turned to locals against him into believing that he was attempting to tear down their homes. He ended up being attacked by more than twenty people in a market place, and had to hide inside a shop before help arrived.

This is really disturbing and appalling to me to know about what is happening to these environmental activists. But what makes these incidents worse is that they are government-related. This report, in my opinion, gives a clear view about what flaws are riddled in the Indian government. India has always been seen as a land rich in culture and environment. Unfortunately, the environment is under tremendous threat by all these powerful corporations that are infamous for degrading various natural habitats that house some of the most unique wildlife seen in the world. Even shocking is that these corporations are backed by local governments. I am, however, glad to see that the Indian government has agreed to act against the violence and intimidation targeted towards the activists. But at the same time, I feel that it should listen to the stories brought by these activists concerning the nation's environment. Also, the local state governments should be aware about such corporations wanting to corrupt them with money and should partner up with environmental activists in order to take them down. That way, India will be perceived as an environment-friendly nation to take a stand against the real corruption taking the advantage of the nation.

View article here  

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Four-Nation Sting Operation Busts Central Africa's Wildlife Smuggling Ring

An African Grey Parrot

Recently, a series of sting operations in central Africa has broken up a highly organized wildlife smuggling ring which has been exporting endangered species abroad into, leading to arrests of powerful dealers and a recovery of hundreds of kilos of ivory, turtle shells, and animal skins. The operations took place in four neighboring nations: Gabon, Cameroon, Central African Republic, and Republic of Congo. The clampdown was coordinated last week by a wildlife law enforcement NGO known as the Last Great Ape Organization (LAGO), which is based in these four countries. The work from this NGO marked a big step towards enforcing regional laws in protecting endangered species.

In Gabon, a group of undercover agents posed as smugglers and arrested sixteen key dealers in possession of 150 kg of ivory. This haul was estimated to be worth about 90,000 pounds on the international market, and was believed to be destined for China via Nigeria. The sixteen dealers were put into custody, after being refused bail following the operation. Luc Mathot of agency AALF had proposed this environmental project to the government, and stated that it was the first time ivory dealers had been put into prison. This meant that Gabonese authorities were ready to monitor, find, condemn, and imprison anyone dealing ivory in the nation. In Cameroon, three dealers were arrested in trading seventeen turtle shells. Also, a cargo of 1,000 African grey parrots was intercepted while being smuggled into Nigeria. At the scene, a police officer was arrested on suspicion of accepting a 2,000 pound bribe to release the truck and allow it to pass. Another operation in Central African Republic seized seven leopard skins, two lion skins, and two elephant tusks hidden under a pile of cowhides in a dealer's truck. They were thought to be bound for either Europe or the U.S to decorate rich homes. On that same day, wildlife activists in the city of Ouesso in Congo found 30 kg of ivory.

According to Ofir Drori, founder of LAGA, this campaign was a breakthrough for the four countries who would sign up to global protections of these animals but fail due to poor legislation and law enforcement. He further stated that the overall conservation in the central African region is a failure behind the so-called success stories. That is, the poachers still have the upper hand and the fight has just begun. The smugglers have been part of a sophisticated mafia that has grown in over the past twenty years.  The major obstacle for the wildlife law enforcers is tackling the endemic corruption in the region.

I'm very proud to see how these neighboring countries are now taking a step against the threat of illegal poaching and wildlife trade. However, these are also the countries deeply affected by corruption. And it is because of corruption that poachers and wildlife smugglers are getting the advantage. That is, regular law enforcement does little to stop them. A classic example was seen in Cameroon when a police officer allowed a truck containing a large haul of African grey parrots to pass into Nigeria after accepting a bribe. I personally believe that the law enforcement in these countries should learn about the dangers of poaching and wildlife trafficking, and how the operators of these malicious activities are sophisticated in manipulating regular authorities. In addition to that, I also feel that all four of these countries are in a need of help regarding the corruption that has been devastating them. If the law enforcements of these neighboring nations become aware regarding the illegal wildlife trade and some form of aid is given in order to end the endemic, then both people and animals will be able to live in peace and harmony.

View article here      

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Middle East's Falcons Threatened by Poachers

The saker falcon

For centuries, the falcon has earned a reputation for endurance and self-reliance in the art of hunting in the Arab culture. However, due to the growing interest in these ancient hunting roots, the Middle East has experienced illegal poaching of threatened birds, which primarily include the houbara bustard which has been the chief target for Arab sheiks for generations. Also, some falcon species, particularly the saker falcon, is now an endangered species. Plus, the numbers of bustards have also been declining. According to experts, the extent of poaching has been taking place in Iran and Iraq but it was hard to pin-point where specifically the illegal activities are taking place. However, experts like Dr. Nigel Collar of BirdLife International say that it is extremely difficult to determine how big the problem is but the trade they think that it is a widespread problem. He further stated that there have been recent cases, in which hunters illegally enter Iran and Iraq to hunt the bustards.
Houbara bustard

One case was in December 1st when four Emirati hunters were arrested in Iran for hunting these birds without a permit in the Ilam Province. That same week, a second case occurred when three Emiratis, who were thought to be part of a hunting group in Iraq, were kidnapped while hunting in the Al Anbar province. They were released in four days after an intervention by Iraqi security forces and tribal leaders. Their captors were believed to have been the Sahwa militia, who had demanded ransom. According to Hamid al Heyes, chairman of the Anbar Salvation Council, the kidnappers saw an opportunity in hunting season to extort money. Furthermore, Mudhafar Salim of Nature Iraq stated that while the organization's teams have heard of poachers coming from the Persian Gulf but had not encountered any during field research.

This article, in my opinion, gives an idea of how a traditional recreation from the past has led to some significant problems regarding Middle East's wildlife. Not only have the quarry numbers decimated, but also the hunters. The houbara, though a highly endangered species, is being severely hunted in parts of Iran and Iraq. Its numbers have shrunk by a quarter in the past twenty years in both the Middle East and North Africa. I personally believe that the practice of falconry should no longer continue because it will have a further impact on the bustard population in the Middle East. The houbara bustard is an endangered species like its relative the great Indian bustard. If its hunting continues, its numbers will fluctuate drastically along with its Indian relative. Also, the saker falcon and other falcon species have been continuously trapped to be kept as pets and hunters for the Arabs. It is about time that the people of Middle East should understand the importance of these birds of prey, and what role they play in the region's ecosystems. Without the falcons, there would be a major ecological imbalance in the region.

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Two Singaporean Nationals Arrested for Ivory Smuggling in Kenya

African elephant

Recently, two Singaporean nationals were arrested in Kenya for having a connection to an alleged attempt in smuggling elephant ivory out of the nation. The two suspects were arrested on Friday when authorities suspected that they were trying to smuggle 92 kilograms of raw ivory at Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport when boarding a midnight flight to Bangkok. One of them was detained, while the other was released after investigations by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) determined his innocence. However, both suspects are currently being held at the airport police station before making their court appearance this coming week. According to KWS spokesperson Paul Udoto, the bust was made by the service's K9 unit. Due to the rise in illegal smuggling of wildlife, the effectiveness of the KWS K9 unit has led to several confiscations and arrests.

I'm very impressed to see that Kenya's own airport has a K9 unit that is dedicated in sniffing out ivory and other illegal wildlife products being smuggled out of the nation. Normally, a K9 unit is used to inspect luggage for any weapons, drugs, and other illegal substances. But in the case of Kenya, there are dogs that take the initiative in seeking out animal body parts. I also feel that it is useful to have such a unit in other airports across the world where the illegal smuggling of wildlife takes place. That way, more arrests and confiscations can be made along with more lives being saved. If it worked for Kenya, it can work for any other nation.

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Ideal Breeding Sites Recommended for Indian Bustards

Great Indian Bustard

Recently, environmentalists have expressed their concern over the lack of suitable breeding sites for the critically endangered great Indian bustard. This magnificent species of bird's population plummeted drastically in Solapur district's Nannaj Wildlife Sanctuary. A man named Pramod Patil, who has been active and protecting the bird, has written a letter to Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh and the forest department urging them to accept the acclaimed 434 hectares of privately owned inside the sanctuary. This acquisition was recommended by the Bombay Natural History Society several years ago. Mr. Patil described the land as cutting across the core area of the sanctuary in the letter. Furthermore, the acceptance of this land would lead to forming of continuous grassland habitat that can be made into use by the birds for breeding. He also stated that the providing of undisturbed breeding sites is crucial for the bustards. Since last three years, he has not been getting record, due to heavy grazing, human interference, and heavy vehicles. He also hopes that this acquisition will happen before these birds become extinct.

I also hope that Mr. Patil's letter urging this acquisition will be taken into effect. The great Indian bustard is one of the most magnificent species of birds that had suffered during the ancient times as a gourmet delicacy for the Mughal emperors and later to British soldiers. While its numbers have been stable in different semi-arid parts of India, the Nannaj Wildlife Sanctuary has experienced a major decline in populations. I feel that it is extremely important and crucial to have proper breeding sites for these birds, along with education on their ecological importance. These methods had been used in the U.S to bring the California condor back from the brink of extinction. Now, it appears that the bustard is on that brink. If the Indian Government does not take the initiative in using these tactics along with conservation groups, then the Indian bustard will certainly disappear from Indian soil.

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Africa's Mountain Gorilla Numbers on the Rise

A mountain gorilla in Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park

Recently, a census reported that the numbers of endangered mountain gorillas in central Africa's Virunga Massif have rose by 26.3% since 2003. At first their were 380 animals, and now that number has soared to up to 480 thanks to increased efforts in reducing illegal poaching and disease. However, it is not a sign to show that the battle in saving the endangered primates is over. The Virunga Massif is a 450-square kilometer range that consists of three primary gorilla hotspots: Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, and Virunga National Park in Congo.

The census, which was conducted in March and April this year, reported that the gorilla population is growing at a rate of 3.7% a year. According to Martha Robbins, a primatologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, the key driver to such success is the International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP). The organization had been engaging local communities in projects such as beekeeping and making handicrafts for tourists, in order to develop economically in 2003. She further added that veterinarians have been monitoring the gorillas for several hours every day, and treating the ill and injured individuals. Eugene Rutagarama, director of IGCP, stated that the other important factor in protecting the animals was an increase in forest guards and patrols in Volcanoes National Park.  Many had access to radios and patrol cars, in order to thwart the poachers.

Since 2002, Rwanda's national parks underwent a reconstructing process in which more rangers on better salaries, radios, patrol cars, and better wildlife conservation training were provided. This has also led to more shelters being built from which the rangers could protect the gorillas. That same year, the governments of Rwanda, Uganda, and Congo had signed a memorandum of understanding but that did not help join the three nations together. They are currently looking over a new treaty, which will legally bring them together in protecting the gorillas.

I'm extremely proud and happy to see what a fantastic job the governments of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda have been doing regarding each other's gorilla population. Veterinarians have been looking out for the animals and treating any that were either sick or injured and anti-poaching patrols have increased with result of more resources provided in combating the poachers. Also, many local communities have been engaging in more beneficial alternatives to poaching or habitat degradation in order to make a good living in their homelands. But what really amazed me is that all three of these nations are going through a new treaty of alliance in protecting the apes. I sure hope that this treaty will go into effect because that way, these three nations will help each other out in protecting their gorilla populations and keeping the poachers off their wild places. All in all, this is good news both for conservationists and gorillas.

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh to Receive Cheetahs


The cheetah has been world-renowned for its grace, beauty, and speed. Its range once extended all the way from Africa, through the Near East, and down into southern Asia. In India, it was kept as a companion by ancient maharajahs who used them for hunting blackbuck and other fast game. However, this magnificent species suffered dramatically from habitat loss and hunting for its spotted coat. In India, the last cheetah became extinct in 1947; the same year when the nation gained independence from the British Empire. But decades later, efforts to reintroduce the animal back into India were being made. At first, India asked Iran where the last remaining population of the Asiatic cheetah is currently living. But Iran refused, saying that it cannot afford to give away any of its cheetahs.

However, in recent times, India had been considering to import Africa's cheetahs in its deserts and grasslands. One of the chosen places is Kuno Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh. The state's government has agreed to accommodate the animal in the sanctuary, which was originally said to be receiving Asiatic lions. But now, it appears that things are starting to change after a cheetah reintroduction presentation by the Wildlife Institute of India and the Wildlife Trust of India. According to Madhya Pradesh forest minister Satraj Singh, the state's chief minister has agreed to have cheetahs in the sanctuary and keep the proposal of having lions on hold. H.S Pabla, the state's principal forest secretary, stated that both Kuno and Nauradehi wildlife sanctuaries were offered for reintroducing the cheetah. He further stated that if they plan to have the cheetah in Nauradehi, they will have to shift 21 villages to make space for the animals.

Ever since I first heard the proposal about reintroducing the cheetah back into India, I was blown away. The animal, which once disappeared since the time of India's independence, is now making a comeback. Even more interesting is that the Indian government, along with some state governments, focused on where specifically in India to release the cheetah. Some of these states included Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, and Rajasthan because they are known to have desert and grassland-type habitats for the animals to live and hunt. However, this article also made a reference to an ongoing controversial debate of shifting lions from Gujarat and into Madhya Pradesh. Both of the states' governments met in the Supreme Court, and discussed their opinions. Gujarat stated that it does not want to transfer its lions in Kuno because of its few remaining tigers. And I think that Gujarat's government has made a right decision because of frequent clashes between the two animals and that they never coexist with one another. But for now, the debate has been put on hold due to this proposal on cheetah reintroduction. I personally think that it would be wise to have the cheetah in these wildlife sanctuaries. Because that way, the lion will continue living and flourishing in its Gujarati homeland which consists of dry savanna-type habitat and the cheetah will live in a habitat consisting of open grasslands and meadows to run and survive.

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Monday, December 6, 2010

Condemnation in New Zealand's Brutal Seal Killings

Two dead New Zealand fur seal pups

The Department of Conservation (DOC) has recently condemned a brutal killing of 23 New Zealand fur seals, including eight pups, along the nation's Kaikoura coast. The seals are protected by law, and the department is now calling for public help in order to identify the would-be killers responsible for such a horrendous deed. The victims were found in a seal colony at Ohau Point about 22 kilometers north of Kaikoura township. They included two adult males, thirteen females, and pups; some of which were just a few days old. Other seals, who were alive, sustained injuries from the attack. The DOC reported that the animals had been behaving very strangely. They were constantly on the alert and were bristling about. This unusual behavior showed that they were suffering from the effects of the attack. According to Dave Hayes, DOC's South Marlborough area manager, the victims' conditions showed that whoever was behind the attacks had carried out in separate days. Some appeared to have been killed about a week ago. He was also extremely disappointed at the lack of respect and respect for the animals, especially in a place which is a popular tourist spot in watching seals in New Zealand. He also believes that some people seem to have a misplaced dislike of seals for unjustifiable reasons. The DOC now hopes that publicity will prompt the public to step forward with any information. This is because the department itself is powerless to prevent another attack because the seals move up and down a vast area, which is hard to stand guard at.

I also feel the same pain as Mr. Hayes and other members of the DOC at what is going on with the fur seal colonies in New Zealand. But what really shocks me is that the department itself is powerless in overlooking such a vast area occupied by the animals. Although it is good that it is reaching out towards the public to help out, I personally feel that the department is in a need of help with regarding different resources in protecting and conserving the seal population. Furthermore, these horrible attacks have had a major impact on the seals in which they are not behaving like they normally should where they spend their time basking in the sun. Instead, they have all been behaving very friskily. I'm also deeply saddened that some of the victims turned out to be little seal pups. In my opinion, this goes to show that whoever conducted these attacks was a baby-killer at heart. The Ohau Point also happens to be one of the top tourist destinations in New Zealand. If the seal population continues to fluctuate this way through brutal killings, it will deeply affect the nation's tourist industry. Some drastic action is a must, and I think that the public must help the DOC in conservation of the seals and other native wildlife in order to keep both the tourist industry and the nation's ecosystem functioning.

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Africa's World Heritage Sites Under Threat

An eastern lowland gorilla in Congo's Kahuzi-Biega National Park
 The UNESCO has recently stated that several of Africa's world heritage sites are under threat from uncontrolled poaching, development, and civil unrest. According to Lazare Eloundou, chief of the World Heritage Center's Africa unit, the dark continent has more than forty percent of sites listed under the List of World Heritage Sites in Danger. UNESCO, which is known for preserving natural and cultural heritage, has made Africa a priority and is giving extra support its governments in helping battle the threats. Mr. Eloundou stated that one of the major problems is the issue of the sites' conservation and protection coming into conflict with the need for infrastructure, and exploitation of resources. He expects a fair balance, and that it is going to be one of the major conservation issues in later years.

Currently, UNESCO is carrying out a two-year review of the conservation state in all African sites which due to be completed in July 2011 with recommendations for improving the sites' states. Mr. Eloundou further added that the review will provide an excellent opportunity to address conservation issues in the future, and that the recommendations will be implemented in the period of 2011-2017. He also stated that many African nations have begun to realize the importance to their local sites, due to their contribution in development regarding good management and protection.

I'm very happy to see what Mr. Eloundou said about different African nations, each containing one or some world heritage sites. People are beginning to understand the importance of their local jungles, and what must be done to protect and preserve them. Some of these sites fall into African countries that were known for civil unrest, such as Liberia and Congo. Congo had been witnessing the influx of refugees fleeing from its neighbor Rwanda since 1994. At that time, Rwanda was notorious for its civil unrest amongst its ethnic groups. In addition to civil unrest, several of these nations are threatened by habitat degradation and illegal poaching. With the rise in bushmeat, several of tropical Africa's endangered species have fallen victims as prey for the local people. These victims even include our closest relatives such as chimpanzees, gorillas, and various species of monkeys. However, based on this report, it shows that people are now starting to step up in the conservation of their cultural heritage sites which house some of these magnificent species of animals.

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Expansion in Orissa's Saltwater Crocodile Census

Saltwater crocodile

The Bhitarkanika National Park in India's Orissa state is a 672 square kilometer terrain of mangrove swamps and wetlands bordering the Bay of Bengal. With several areas of impenetrable swamplands, it is an ideal crocodile habitat. Bhitarkanika happens to be one of the few well-known wild places on the Indian subcontinent that are home to the saltwater crocodile, the largest and most infamous of the world's crocodile species. The sanctuary has been witnessing numerous attacks from these gigantic reptiles, especially during the monsoon months. With the rise in such incidences, the park's authorities have recently planned to expand territorial limits of a crocodile census to be conducted in January next year. According to Divisional Forest Officer Manoj Kumar Mahapatra, the census is going to spread to fresh water bodies outside of the national park. He further added that the locations where the crocodiles were being spotted happened to be water bodies near human habitations. One possible crocodile habitation site was the upstream of Brahmani, Baitarani, and Kharasrota river system. Cases of man-crocodile conflicts had taken place in the villages of Chandabali block in Bhadrakh district, along with Aul, Rajkanika, Rajnagar, and Pattamundai blocks in Kendrapara district. This prompted authorities to help make the residents aware through a series of campaigns in vulnerable villages. They even set up awareness camps, in which they helped the local panchayati raj institutions regarding this ongoing catastrophe. It had been found that crocodiles were attacking people at bathing ghats near the water bodies. So, many people were advised to bathe in tube wells. In addition to that, bamboo fence barriers were put up at ghats to prevent any further intrusion from the reptiles.

I'm very happy to see that Bhitarkanika's forest officials had taken the initiative in helping both the crocodiles and the local villagers. One ingenious piece of work they did is construct bamboo barriers along the bathing ghats, in order to prevent any further attacks from the crocodiles. This similar technique is also used in some African countries, where villagers live alongside another dangerous crocodile: the Nile crocodile. In addition to that, the authorities even set up awareness camps as away to educate the locals about their reptilian neighbors and they must do in order to peacefully coexist with them. I sure hope that in the future, Bhitarkanika's villagers will live peacefully with crocodiles without getting into any kind of conflict.

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Punjab's Harike Wetlands to Undergo Bio-Monitoring Project

Indus River dolphin

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has recently made a decision to conduct a bio-monitoring project in the Harike Wetlands in Punjab's Amritsar district. The reason for that is because there had been reported sightings of rare and highly endangered Indus River dolphins three years ago. An official for the Punjab Forest and Wildlife Preservation stated that WWF researchers had submitted their project's proposal to the department. He further added that the dolphins' presence indicated that the wetlands' ecosystem is very helpful for other native wildlife species. Furthermore, Firozpur Divisional Forest Officer Sanjeev Tiwari stated that as many as six dolphins had been sighted. He also added that this winter will see a large number of greylag geese, which suggests that the water quality has improved. In addition to dolphins, the project will also focus on smooth-coated otters and seven species of turtles. According to Chief Wildlife Warden Gurbaj Singh, the project will not only obtain data to show any increase or decrease in numbers of previously known species but also focus on new species and ones threatened to extinction. The project is also going to cover the aspect of pollution, which has been the biggest threat to the wetlands. One of the two rivers, Satluj, is said to be polluted compared to the much cleaner Beas River.

I'm extremely proud to see what this project conducted by the WWF is going to cover in this unique ecosystem. India's Punjab province has always been viewed as the center of agriculture, due to its fertile land. Because of this, there are not very many wildlife habitats. The Harike Wetlands happen to be one of the few wild places left in the province. But what is really striking is that the wetlands happen to contain the Indus River dolphin, the relative of the Ganges River dolphin. Both of these dolphins are highly endangered, due to habitat degradation and have to be securely protected. The reason is because both of them and their relatives in the Amazon are said to be indicators of polluted and non-polluted water. That is, if their numbers are increasing, it shows that a river is not polluted and if their numbers are decreasing, then a river is polluted. In other words, these extraordinary mammals play a major role in the wetlands' ecosystem. I have a very good feeling that this project will be a step in helping conserve Punjab's wetlands, and hopefully be an influence to other conservation projects in saving India's wetlands and their inhabitants.

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