Friday, October 29, 2010

Florida Businessman Pleads Guilty for Selling Ivory Cue Sticks

African elephant in the Serengeti

An owner of a pool cue company in Florida has been charged with selling cue-sticks weighted with African elephant ivory. Joseph Barringer, a resident of New Smyrna Beach, owned a company called Cue Components which manufactures and sells custom cue sticks and parts. Barringer's brush with the law began five years ago when the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service came upon his company's website and saw ferrules, joint collars, butt caps, and inlays made of ivory. Although buying and selling of African elephant ivory has been banned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the organization had made exceptions in which only the tusks from elephants dead naturally can be manufactured and sold. In addition to that, pre-ban and antique ivory are accepted under the U.S law.

After seeing Cue Components's website, federal authorities decided to monitor the company closely. During the process, Barringer had placed a "genuine elephant ivory" up for bid on eBay. At that point, an undercover agent from the Scotland Yard placed his bid. The agent ended up with several ivory cue sticks shipped to England. In December 2007, Cue Components was met with a warrant by federal agents who uncovered 197 pounds of ivory pieces and 24 elephant tusks in Barringer's house. However, they did not have any proof that the ivory was illegally smuggled into the U.S. The government made a plea bargain with Barringer, who recently pleaded guilty for illegally exporting ivory cue sticks. He is now faced with a sentence of one year in jail, a year with supervised release, and a $100,000 or twice the gross gain accumulating from the crime.

This article gives a clear representation of how a U.S-based organization dedicated in battling the illegal trade of wildlife maintains excellent contact with other law enforcement overseas. In this case, it was with the U.K law enforcement which led to a "buyer" from England bringing a good amount of evidence to the authority. This later resulted in U.S federal agents seizing several overwhelming pounds of illegally sold ivory, and a bonus of 1,841 Cuban cigars which are only imported illegally into the U.S. Even though the authorities had no proof whether the ivory in Barringer's possession was smuggled illegally into the country, he is now clearly behind the eight ball.

View article here

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Seized Notebooks Provide an In-Depth Look at the Illegal Pangolin Trade

A Sunda pangolin

A recent analysis conducted by the Preliminary Assessment of Pangolin Trade in Malaysia's capital city of Kota Kinabalu in Sabah showed that the wildlife department had seized notebooks during a raid at an illegal syndicate in 2009. The books revealed that a total of 22,200 Sunda pangolins had been killed and 834.4 kg of pangolin scales were supplied to the syndicate between May 2007 and January 2009. They also detailed significant figures such as the animals' weight, volume, sources, and prices purchased by the syndicate during the 14-month period.

The department provided wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC access to these notebooks, in order to combat the illicit trade in pangolins. According to Noorainie Awang Anak, senior program officer with TRAFFIC and the report's author, the detailed record-taking has provided a unique insight into the volumes of pangolins being smuggled in the region. However, he pointed out that the numbers could be higher as no books were found during the period of August 2007 to February 2008, or June 2008. It is unknown whether these books had gone missing, or because there was no smuggling during that period. Mr. Anak's report also showed results of a survey, in which fourteen pangolin hunters were interviewed on the west coast of Sabah. According to them, the main drivers of the increased pangolin trade were middlemen offering high prices for the animals. In addition to that, all but one of the thirteen men believed that the pangolin is on the verge of extinction.

This article, in opinion, gives a clear idea how these wildlife enforcement agencies rely on some significant sources of information while combating the illegal trade of exotic wildlife. This way, they get an in-depth picture from the statistics showing how many animals are being illegally smuggled across the borders. And based on what the Sabah Wildlife Department had found, the numbers are staggering. I believe that this is a sure sign that the pangolin population in Southeast Asia is close to extinction, and that serious measures must be taken to recover the population from further fluctuation. Also, it is interesting to see that Mr. Anak's survey showed that there are pangolin hunters who are aware about the conditions in the animals' population. I think that one possibility in combating the illegal pangolin trade would be to enlist former pangolin hunters, who would provide the authorities with some more important information about the ongoing crisis through their knowledge and experience.

View article here  

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Conservationists to Microchip Rhinos to Track Poachers

White rhinoceros

Wildlife conservationists in South Africa have established a new anti-rhino poaching program, in which they microchip the animals with GPS tracking devises. The microchips are inserted inside the animals' horns as a way to combat the illegal poaching. The Mafikeng Game Reserve in the nation's North West province has had five rhinos fitted with GPS tracking devices, as stated by the National Parks Board. Many of these chips are connected to a computer monitoring station at the game reserves' headquarters, which will allow rangers to track every movement of the rhinos. It is also contemplated that the system will be used to track rhino horns being illegally smuggled abroad.

According to park enforcement officer, Rusty Hustler, the animals' movements will be tracked 24/7 and if they are shot, the park rangers will be alerted through an alarm system. He further added that the alarm system sets off if a rhino lies motionless for more than six hours, becomes unusually active, or wonders off a game park's borders. Once the alarm is set off, a "reaction team" will be dispatched. Many of these microchips were fitted last April, and over the last six months, have been a success. The board of provincial parks has intentions on tagging more rhinos in later weeks.

I'm very proud to see that South Africa has found a way to track poachers; which in this case, is through technology. By planting GPS microchips inside horns of live rhinos, they will definitely track down the poachers. However, I also know that these poachers are smart and they definitely learn from their mistakes. I also hope that while keeping track of poachers, the authorities and conservationists will also come up with some new tactics in order to curb down rhino poaching in South Africa.

View article here

Monday, October 25, 2010

Proposal on Damming Borneo's Rivers Alarms Malaysian Conservationists

Borneo elephant; an endemic species threatened by the proposal

Malaysian conservationists were alarmed at a recent proposal by the federal government to build dams on some rivers in the Indonesian island of Borneo. The reason for such a huge project was to guarantee water and electricity needs in the Kaiduan Valley, near Kota Belud in the state of Sabah, and on Tutoh River in the state of Sarawak. However, environmentalists, villagers, and other people disagree with the proposal. According to S.M Muthu, spokesman for the Malaysia Nature Society, Sabah and Sarawak boast with energy suppliers such as biomass fuel, gas, and solar which can be used for electricity. He further added that engineers had examined the infrastructure needs of East Malaysia, and concluded that dams are not required for electricity production. Nonetheless, the Malaysian government insisted the dams are needed as keys to power the nation's economy in order to become industrialized by 2020. In response, residents in the Kaiduan Valley built a blockade to halt work on one of the locations, and voiced their opposition to the one in Kota Belud. Also, activists in Sarawak warned that a hydropower dam on the Tutoh River risks changing the boundary of a national park.

This news article, in my opinion, is a clear representation of how a government project to industrialize a nation can be met with some stirring criticism. The main concern featured here is related to the environment and nature. Borneo is home to a rich variety of wildlife. Some of it is rarely seen. I feel that the construction of dams will put the lives of animals in jeopardy. Among them include the Borneo pygmy elephant and the orangutan. I sure hope that something could be done to stop this major government project.

View article here   

Sunday, October 24, 2010

United States' Captive Tigers- Victims of the Black Market

A captive tiger in the U.S

A recent analysis released by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and TRAFFIC showed that weak regulations on captive tigers in the U.S could be constituting to the million dollar trade in tiger body parts in the black market. It has been estimated that 5,000 tigers are kept in the United States as pets. According to Leigh Henry, senior policy officer of WWF's Species Conservation, the illegal trade in body parts derived from captive tigers activates the demand for the ones from wild tigers. He further added that a nationwide database is crucial to guarantee that tigers in captivity do not end up as folk medicine or souvenirs. In American states where there are no laws or regulations, WWF and TRAFFIC warn that captive tigers are often kept in horrendous conditions.

In the U.S alone, eight states have no such laws whatsoever on tigers in captivity, while 17 others allow keeping the animals with a state permit or registration. At the same time 28 states have laws banning possessions of tigers in private collections. Among those include Oregon, Iowa, and Washington. Unfortunately, they have systems to regulate tigers that were grandfathered in prior to the law of the bans. In addition to that, there are also several exceptions, exemptions, and loopholes to the enactments that makes it impossible for federal agencies to maintain the current inventory of tigers in the country. There is also lack of sufficient state or federal regulation which makes it difficult to determine what happens to the tigers' body parts when they die.

To tackle this problem, WWF has issued an online tool that allows users to learn about their states' regulations in captive tigers and how weak oversight puts both captive and wild tigers along with human safety at risk. In addition to that, WWF and TRAFFIC have recommended that the United States should establish a central reporting system and database for all captive tigers within the nation's borders without any exemptions or exceptions. The groups further recommended that any person or a facility owning a captive tiger should report on the number of animals held, births, mortality rates, and transfer or sale. The two groups also advised that any tiger death should be reported immediately, and the carcasses should be cremated by a licensed facility. Finally, WWF and TRAFFIC stated that state and federal agencies should be given financial resources to conduct undercover investigations to rub out markets for tiger parts and find any international smuggling attempts.

I'm very impressed to see that the World Wildlife Fund and TRAFFIC have reached out to the U.S government, and gave some useful ideas on how to help combat the international trade of tiger body parts. In the U.S, there have been several cases of tigers being kept in captivity and it is surprising to see that they are also victims of the black market as well as their wild cousins. However, I also feel that those states which do not regulate in captive tigers should start joining forces with their neighbors who are very strict in their regulations and cooperate with other nations around the world. This way, the process of the illegal trade in tiger body parts will slow down.

View article here

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Assam Takes a Tough Stand Against Illegal Poaching

Indian elephant in sunset

The state of Assam in northeast India has recently introduced a series of strong anti-poaching laws with penalties of up to ten years behind bars for killing either a rhino, elephant, or a tiger. This new legislation was drafted as a response after poachers killed nine endangered one-horned rhinos in and around Kaziranga National Park this year. According to state forest minister Rokybul Hussain, the new penalties are an update to the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 that imposes jail terms of three to seven years. He further added that poachers will face increased fines of about $1,085 which is five times to what the national law provides. In addition to that, Assam is also in the process of establishing a forest protection force. This force consisting of 1,000 members will be trained by the police and provided modern weapons to ensure protection of the wildlife.

I'm very proud to see that Assam has taken such a big step in combating illegal poaching. Not only is it enforcing some tough poaching laws aimed at poachers, but is also establishing a force consisting of 1,000 units which will help bring further reduction in poaching activities. I sure hope that somewhere in the future, Assam will provide aid to other Indian states that lack resources and funding in fighting illegal poaching. One of them is Orissa, which has lost a great deal of its elephant population to poaching. It would be very helpful and beneficial if a state that has been able to take a stand against poaching would help another in need through resources and funding. This way, states like Orissa will also rise up against the poachers who have been devastating the ecosystems.

View article here

Friday, October 22, 2010

South Africa Joins Forces with Vietnam to Combat Rhino Poaching

White rhinos

The nations of South Africa and Vietnam are said to team up together to combat the illegal poaching of rhinos and trade in their horns. While South Africa has the largest populations of rhinos thanks to conservation programs, Vietnam has been a gateway for South Africa's rhinos. Poaching of rhinos has increased between 2006 and 2009 resulting to a loss of nearly 500 animals. In addition to that, Vietnam has been blamed for the trade in rhino horns due to absence of proper registry and tracking methods. But now, a recent collaboration of law enforcement efforts by the two nations are hoped to bring some relief to the conservation crisis. Furthermore, it will receive financial support from WWF-Germany, WWF African Rhino Program, and even the U.S government who made a commitment to support the initiative at a CITES meeting to be held in March.

I'm very impressed to see that South Africa has now gone international and forming a foreign alliance in a battle against rhino poaching. It appears that both South Africa and Vietnam have found a connection between them regarding this ongoing environmental crisis. That is, the rhinos are killed in South Africa and their horns are illegally smuggled overseas into Vietnam where they fetch huge prices in the black market. I'm also impressed to see that the U.S government will plan to provide financial aid to this collaboration, as well as WWF (World Wildlife Fund) programs. This goes to show how South Africa has taken yet another step forward in combating rhino poaching after forming a local task force.

View article here

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pakistan's Chinkara Gazelle Slaughter- A Political Connection

Chinkara (Indian gazelle)

When most people of India think about the Indian gazelle, known locally as "chinkara", they think of Salman Khan. The reigning superstar had a brush with the law back in 1998 for allegedly shooting the petite creature along with another graceful antelope, the blackbuck, during the filming of Hum Saath Saath Hain: We Stand United. The incident had sparked a major outrage, particularly among the Bishnoi people who are known for their deep love for nature and wildlife. Now, there has been another tragic incident involving this gorgeous gazelle not in India but in Pakistan.

A group of hunters had slaughtered forty chinkaras in Pakistan's Punjab province. Even more shocking is that the killers belong to the nation's well-connected political families. The incident had occurred in Bahawalpur area, and thought to have been one of the most serious massacres of wildlife according to News International. The killers used spotlights on their vehicles as a way to confuse the gazelles and subsequently paralyze them, and shot them at close range. According to Punjab's wildlife department sources, they had received information about some powerful hunters. An inquiry was in process to catch on the facts. According to Babar Hassan Bharwana, Secretary for Wildlife of Punjab, he was met with a hunter ten days ago about a large number of chinkara illegally hunted.

It is extremely appalling, yet saddening to see such a magnificent creature suffer in the hands of people who seem to have no remorse or feelings for at all. Normally, poachers are the ones who behave this way but sometimes the perpetrators could be powerful people like a film celebrity or in this case members of political families. What really shocked me about this article is that although this gazelle is protected, the nation of Pakistan issues licenses for restricted hunting which is something India does not allow. I personally feel that Pakistan should reconsider its wildlife laws, and provide strong protection to its wildlife in such a way that legalized hunting should not be practiced. After what these members of political families did, I fear that the effect of this incident might draw regular civilians down to places rich with wildlife and slaughter it in any way possible.

View article here  

Japan- Major Importer of Rare Plants and Animals

Greek spur-thighed tortoise; an endangered exotic import in Japan

A report recently indicated that Japan is a major importer of rare plants and animals. It was released last week with affiliation to an international conference on biodiversity protection being held in Nagoya. The report titled "State of Wildlife Trade in Japan" was prepared by a wildlife trade monitoring group known as TRAFFIC, stated that the nation has ranked No. 2 in the importing of live tortoises and birds and No. 3 in orchids in 2007. Keeping note that Japan is currently hosting the international biological diversity talks, the report also indicated that the nation is aiming to favor greater understanding of its trade patterns. This way, the economy in the wildlife trade can be guided toward "responsible consumption."

Japan has been known to import roughly 1600 species of 5000 animal species and 28000 plant species appointed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The report even included that there is a rise on import cases, numbering about 50,000 in 2007 which is five times more than twenty years ago. It has also been noted that the report found endangered species from Southeast Asia and Japan's Ryukyu black-breasted leaf turtle on sale in pet stores of Kanto and Chubu regions. The turtle's sale, however, is banned because it is a protected species. But that does not stop the importing process from functioning. The report also discovered that Japan was a top importer in Indian star tortoises and Greek spur-thighed tortoises. Traffic is now consulting the legislation to harden the rules and penalties on the trade of these animals.

I'm very glad to see that TRAFFIC has been actively alert for any activities regarding the trade of endangered wildlife, especially in a time like this when Japan was hosting an international conference to discuss the protection on the world's biodiversity. I sure hope that the nation's legislation will approve this report issued by the monitoring network, which includes the statistics on Japan's imports of exotic wildlife. I also hope that during this conference, Japan will state some of its new and tough rules on the importing of exotic wildlife in its land. This way, the world will witness further protection of endangered wildlife.

View article here

Sunday, October 17, 2010

China Uncovers its Ambitious Conservation Plan

Golden monkeys in China's Shennongjia Nature Reserve

China has recently uncovered its ambitious conservation plan before a U.N conference held in Nagoya, Japan. This new biodiversity action plan is said to select 52 conservation areas covering 23% of the country. It has also assured state funds for protection and has set a target to control the loss of biodiversity by 2020. The province of Sichuan has been first to put the plan into action. It has identified five ecological protection areas: one connects to the existing giant panda reserves, the second reconstructs an area damaged by industry, two protect semi-tropical flora and fauna, and the fifth compensates the impact of dams. The plan has also planned to build on the nation's 2500 nature reserves.

The plan has received a great deal of praise among foreign conservationists, who believe that China will be at the forefront of global efforts in reversing habitat and species decline. According to Ouyang Zhiyun, vice president of the Ecological Society of China, moves were made to revise wildlife protection laws and boost "ecological transfer funds" that recompense counties for preserving areas that seize carbon and conserve soil and biodiversity. Other supporters include Matthew Durnin, a lead scientist for Nature Conservancy, who believed that China has made strong commitments. Another is Gretchen Daily, an associate professor at Stanford University, who stated that China took a step further in fixing "natural capital" in decision making.

While China's new conservation plan has received much approval, there are also some who are not much optimistic. Critics have warned that this plan's commitments are likely to be overbalanced by economic interests. They even assert that the plans are so domestically focused, that they will do little in stopping the over-exploitation and the illegal trade of endangered species. Some conservationists even warned about poor enforcement boring from within such drives. According to Yan Xie of the Wildlife Conservation Society, the laws are sometimes not well implemented which allows the destruction to go unpunished. Furthermore, this conference held in Japan will be the tenth one for the Convention on Biological Diversity. Its aim has been to set biodiversity protection targets and rules on sustainable and fairly shared genetic resources. But this time, it seems that critics are doubtful about the effectiveness of the conference's actions based on its failure to meet the goals ten years ago. Much of this failure stems from weak international controls on the wildlife trade and the exploitation of oceans.

This article, in my opinion, gives a clear picture about the reality of a conservation plan proposed. It may have some benefits that maybe enough to persuade people that it will be effective, but there are also some side effects. In the case of China's recent proposal on its conservation plan, those side effects will do a little job in curbing down the illegal trade of endangered wildlife. The reason is because this plan is only focused on conserving areas that are primarily in China alone, and the illegal wildlife trade is an international issue. However, China had earlier made a pact with India in putting a stop to such a barbaric practice. But I think what is shown here is that the nation (China) probably has not formed a similar alliance with other countries where the illegal trade in wildlife looms. If cross-border arrangements are not made, then the environment stress would be pushed from one country to poorer ones. I think China still has to forge alliance with other nations, besides India, to put a permanent halt in the wildlife trade for good. This way, it will definitely gain a worldwide attention.

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Leopard Seal Killers Exposed Through Facebook

Leopard seal

A group of three men who had allegedly attacked and killed a leopard seal by throwing rocks at it, and posing for pictures were uncovered via Facebook. The killers were Michael Matthews, Harley Mckenzie, and Phillip Horrell, who were charged at New Zealand's Invercargill District Court for taking part in brutally injuring the poor creature on October 27th last year near Rowellan Burn at the Te Waewae Bay. The three men are faced with a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a fine up to $250,000. According to Alan Christie, principal compliance officer of the Department of Conservation, the three men were driving past a beach when they spotted the animal. Horrell filmed the seal while his two friends threw rocks at it, in order to agitate it. During the process, the seal was hit twice in the head and appeared to lose consciousness. After that, the pictures were taken of Mathews and Mckenzie which were placed in a file titled "Good Times" by Horrell and uploaded on the networking site. According to Horrell's lawyer Bill Dawkins, his client did not participate in such actions and could be heard telling them to stop at that time. However, Judge Jane Farish stated that he was more worried about personal safety and could have been heard laughing and making obscene comments through the video. Furthermore, Judge Farish said that it was a barbaric act. Horrell was fined $5000 and Matthews was fined $7000. Mckenzie, on the other hand, was previously convicted for animal cruelty and was ordered back to custody for his sentence scheduled for November 12th.

I'm extremely appalled and disgusted by the fact that a group of three friends would have some fun simply by intentionally torturing and ultimately killing a wild creature. But what really shocks me is that these alleged killers turned out to be sheep shearers, which means that they have been around animals (sheep in particular). I guess when they tried to throw rocks at the leopard seal, it may have been something like a test of courage with an extremely saddening result. What these three men did made me think back to my younger days when I was visiting a nature park in Gandhinagar called Indroda Park. There, I saw a group of school kids who were throwing rocks at a marsh crocodile inside its exhibit. It definitely appeared to be extremely barbaric to see a bunch of innocent-looking kids commit such an atrocious act. But I think what these three friends did to the seal and posting their recorded acts on Facebook was far more horrendous.

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Friday, October 15, 2010

Federal Authorities Investigate Killings of Red Wolves in North Carolina

A red wolf

Federal authorities are currently investigating suspected shooting deaths of three endangered red wolves. The most recent killing occurred last week in Alligator River Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina's Dare County. Before that, two more wolves were found dead in Hyde County six months ago. These magnificent animals are being killed at an alarming rate in the perspectives of federal officials and wildlife conservationists. According to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, 66 wolves have died of gunshots since 1987 with more than half the deaths occurring in the past six years. In that same year, many were reintroduced back as a result of captive breeding by a red wolf recovery program.

Biologists estimate that between 115 and 130 red wolves exist today along the Albemarle Peninsula. Nine years ago, they identified that the biggest threat to the red wolf population is hybridization with coyotes. However, since 2004, 37 wolves perished; out of which 31 have been breeding pairs. That is, they were alpha males and females who constitute to the establishment of packs. According to David Rabon, director of the red wolf recovery program, many of these deaths result from misunderstandings in which hunters mistake the wolves for coyotes. In addition to that, he also believes that there are also people who are simply intolerant of these animals that were wrongfully thought to have a bad reputation as bloodthirsty killers. Similarly, Kim Wheeler of a nonprofit organization called Red Wolf Coalition states that people are ignorant of the wolves' protected status.

I'm deeply worried about the red wolf population to this day after these recent killings. But what is really shocking and provoking is the issues that have been resulting to this scale of mass killings over the years. And one of them has been mistaking these wolves for coyotes, which are completely different in terms of size, behavior, coat color, etc. I personally think that one way to minimize further reduction to the rampant slaughter of red wolves is education. This way, people will have a sense of understanding before distinguishing the difference between the two animals. However, there are also people who simply kill the wolves out of spite. They should also be educated and persuaded that wolves are not cold-blooded killers as depicted in folklore. But if some of these people turn out to be radicals who simply do not care about the wolves' existence, then they are the real criminals. They should be the ones stripped of their hunting licenses. Or better yet, face a year in jail and $100,000 in fines.

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Growing Concern of Livestock Grazing in Assamese Wildlife Sanctuary

Indian one-horned rhinoceros

A wildlife sanctuary in the state of Assam called Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary has just witnessed a spurt in domestic livestock grazing, which has led to some grave concern regarding its wildlife. This tiny wildlife sanctuary, like its larger counterpart Kaziranga National Park, is home to a very high concentration of one-horned rhinos. Among the major ecological hazards amidst include an increased contact with the livestock, which would expose wild herbivores to diseases from cattle. Another issue is related to the availability of food and space, in which the encroaching livestock would put pressure on food and living space inside the sanctuary that expands only 38.8 square kilometers across. Also, there has also been concerns about the risk of cross-breeding with the cattle which would weaken the gene pool of another flagship species, the wild water buffalo.

In addition to that, forest officials have also shown concern about the risk of human-wildlife conflict as the encroachment of livestock would force wild animals like rhinos to stray out of the sanctuary in search of food and space. According to one forest official, a fence was posted up to prevent the cattle from entering but the people would remove parts of the fence allowing their animals to enter. The official further stated that he and others are in talks with the locals, so that they can understand the ecological problems. Apart from forest officials, conservationists have also felt that excessive livestock grazing would further jeopardize Pobitora and its local wildlife population because it resembles a small island amidst human settlements.

I sure hope that some serious measures will come into action in reducing the chances of any livestock grazing in this wildlife sanctuary. With an area of 38.8 square kilometers, Pobitora truly happens to be a tiny wildlife sanctuary compared to Kaziranga and easily prone to such environmental issues. I'm, however, glad to see that the forest officials have taken action in communicating with the local people about the dangers of raising their cattle in the forests. I'm also happy to see that they have taken a further step advising periodical vaccinations of the cattle against various diseases, but I also hope that these vaccines will not affect the wildlife like how diclofenac did to India's vulture population.

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

United Nations Warn of the Dugong's Future

A dugong mother and its baby

A U.N-backed forum recently warned that dugongs, herbivorous marine mammals of tropical waters, are threatened with extinction within forty years unless serious measures ranging from replacing fishing nets to establishing marine reserves will be taken. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) recently met in Abu Dhabi, where it summarized various issues that contribute to further depletion in the animals' populations. These include illegal poaching, hunting by local communities, severe injuries from ships and boats, and vanishing of sea-grass beds. The program even stressed that regional cooperation among countries known for having these unusual marine mammals is essential for their survival. One idea suggested by the program is replacing harmful gillnets with an alternative fishing gear to reduce the mortality rates. According to Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary of Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), simple innovative tools and incentives for local fishermen have been presented to the CMS dugong agreement which might help in saving the animals from extinction. Among the steps include protection of feeding and breeding and feeding areas by establishing reserves, temporal fishing limits, and loans to fishermen to buy new boats and line-fishing gear.

A survey taken in 2008 showed that the dugongs are now extinct in the Maldives, Mauritius, Taiwan, and China. It is also declining in other waters in at least a third of the areas where they are found. Data from fishermen in twenty countries consisting of the Pacific Islands, southern Asia, and the United Arab Emirates to evaluate the threat of fishing on the animals' survival in their migratory range will be joined into a geographical information system to identify the spots where they are threatened. It will also provide important information on existing populations and present crucial habitat areas like sea-grass beds. The assessment will further extend to East Africa, the western and north-western parts of the Indian Ocean, and South Asia.

I feel that it is really helpful the United Nations have identified one of the world's most highly endangered species that requires a great deal of protection from extinction. Earlier, the U.N formed an alliance with local Central Asian governments to protect and conserve the populations of the saiga antelope. I hope that it will establish a similar partnership with governments in nations that house these animals, which were once thought to be "mermaids" by sailors during the days of exploration.

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

South Africa Sets Up a New Task Force to Combat Rhino Poaching

White rhinos

The Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs of South Africa, Buyelwa Sonjica, recently announced that a newly dedicated task unit to combat rhino poaching has started operating. Minister Sonjica was attending a summit in Pretoria, where she stated that tougher penalties did not appear to have any effect of keeping poachers at bay. According to her, 227 endangered white rhinos have been ruthlessly slaughtered this year, and at the current rate, poachers could kill more than 300 of these magnificent beasts by the end of the year.

However, the establishment of this new task unit called the National Wildlife Crime Reaction Unit is directed at responding to wildlife crimes, including rhino poaching. It will be led by the Department of Environmental Affairs, and even includes members of the South African Police Service (SAPS), National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), South African National Parks (SANParks), and Ezemvelo KZN (KwaZulu-Natal) Wildlife. One select team known as the "Hawks" of SAPS have been assigned to focus on rhino poaching. According to Fundisile Mketeni, deputy director-general of biodiversity and conservation, the unit would become permanent in the battle against poaching if it will prove to successful. Johan Kruger, an advocate of NPA, stated that there were 26 cases of rhino-poaching involving at least eighty people accused. The NPA used a variety of tools to prosecute the perpetrators. It looked at charging them with offenses other than poaching such as, breaking aviation laws, organized crime laws, corruption, and tax evasion. The reason NPA would prevent organized crime laws is because most poachers worked in syndicates. According to Mr. Kruger, most of the foreigners arrested in the syndicate were Chinese and Vietnamese nationals. Also, Minister Sonjica ruled out the confrontation with the Vietnamese government, stating that the nation will soon sign a memorandum of understanding on the environment with South Africa.

I think this news article seems like that South Africa is about to put its foot down in the battle against rampant rhino poaching that has been devastating the nation this whole year. Of course some security firms have started military training to combat this ongoing catastrophe, but now it appears that the plan to combat poaching has reached a national level. This was seen in Minister Sonjica's statement during the conference in Pretoria. I sure hope that this new wildlife task force will prevent further encroachment of illegal poachers on South Africa's wild soil, and I have a very good feeling about it. Because it consists of authorities who normally stay focused on regular crimes. Now, it seems that they have taken the initiative and joined forces with wildlife authorities in this battle to save South Africa's rhinos.

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Monday, October 4, 2010

India's Poacher Kingpin Faces the Power of the Supreme Court

Sansar Chand

The Sariska National Park in India's Rajasthan state is now slowly and slowly recovering after a few tigers were successfully released some months ago, in order to help reboost the population. But before that, a massive onslaught of wild tigers had plagued the national park four years ago. At that time, in 2005, a report issued by forest officials revealed that there were virtually no tigers left in the national park. It had been found that illegal poaching had played the role in the dramatic drop to the tiger population, and one key figure behind this ruthless massacre was a sadistic cutthroat named Sansar Chand. Sansar Chand has been regarded as a "kingpin" when it came to poaching, and for a good reason. His whole life has been that of a poacher. He had his first brush with the law in 1974 for possession of tiger skins when he was just sixteen years old. From then on, he made a full-time career in illegally poaching India's wildlife. At the same time, he had been arrested several times but was always granted bail which provided him further opportunity to continue his illicit activities. In addition, his loved ones had also been involved in poaching activities which included his wife, son, and nephew making this a family business. In April 2004, Chand was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison by a court in Ajmer, Rajasthan. However, he jumped bail the next month after which he made his move on Sariska's tiger population. He was again arrested, and in 2006, confessed in selling 470 tiger skins and 130 leopard skins to clients in Nepal and Tibet. He is now currently undergoing another five-year jail term.

Recently, the Supreme Court of India condemned Chand for his heinous crimes. According to the court bench consisting of Justice Markandey Katju and Justice T.S Thakur, the population of the nation's tigers and leopards were fluctuating because Chand is trading their skins to buyers in and across India's borders. The court even stated that because of Chand's appetite for money, he would later move on to selling human skins. This, in my opinion, goes to show how the Supreme Court views this notorious hardcore criminal's actions. In addition to that, the court even strongly rejected the argument of Chand's lawyer Siddhartha Luthra which stated that the poacher was not involved in poaching. In his statement, Luthra argued that if his client was involved in poaching activities then how was it possible that they are still erupting after Chand's arrest. The court was unimpressed by the lawyer's plea, stating that Chand and everybody else who represent him have a lust for money and everything in India is commercial to them. I'm glad to see that the Supreme Court of India is viewing poachers, including Sansar Chand, as criminals who would do anything to exploit their nation's land of resources especially its wildlife. And I sure hope that maybe next time Chand gets out of prison, he will find it difficult to continue his criminal activities.

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Saturday, October 2, 2010

1,000 Rare Madagascan Tortoises Illegally Gathered Each Week

Spider tortoise

The WWF (World Wildlife Fund) staff had recently conducted a survey in southern Madagascar, and found that around ten or more bullock carts each filled with a maximum of 100 tortoises were leaving the Mahafaly Plateau every week. These tortoises include the radiated tortoise and the spider tortoise, which are endemic in the spiny forests of southern Madagascar. These reptiles are victims of the illegal bushmeat trade, deforestation, and the exotic pet trade. These tortoises are considered a delicacy among Madagascar's ethnic groups, particularly the Vezo and Antanosy people who consume them during special events such as Christmas, Easter, and Independence Day. Between 2001 and 2010, some 7,855 live tortoises and more than 4.8 tonnes of meat were seized. This seizure represented that around two percent of 600,000 reptiles have been illegally gathered during that period. A survey by WWF's Tiana Ramahaleo showed that the area of Toliara was among thirty communities in the Mahafaly Plateau where the illegal collection of tortoises for public consumption is still rampant.

In addition to that, deforestation has also threatened the lives of these reptiles. In 2008, a study by Conservation International showed that the levels of deforestation increased to four percent annually between 2000 and 2005 from 1.2 percent between 1999 and 2000. The prominent issues that constituted to such dramatic increases include slash and burn agriculture, bush fires, and charcoal production for the towns of Toliara and Fort Dauphin. A wildlife trade network known as TRAFFIC, has recently reported that these tortoises are openly on sale as exotic pets in Thailand and Indonesia. The program had also made reports on occasions when people have been busted for illegal possession of the animals in their luggage. A recent example occurred earlier this year when two Malagasy women were the first to be charged and convicted for the crime after Malaysian authorities uncovered 374 tortoises. Apart from Southeast Asia, Madagascar's international airport in Ivato has also seen a number of such seizures.

According to Tiana Ramahaleo, Conservation Planning and Species Program Coordinator for WWF, Madagascar has been active in the conservation of the spiny forest eco-region since 1999. The nation has seen a drop in deforestation at a rate of 27 percent, and the raising of awareness for the conservation of the tortoises. Several villages cooperated with the authorities, in turn putting a stop to the illegal poaching of the reptiles. This year, the town of Toliara celebrated the Year of Biodiversity with a conference focusing on the tortoises. The objective was to raise awareness among the population and vivify them to protect the species. However, on that same day, participants at the conference received breaking news about a gang of poachers arrested outside of Toliara with 1,475 live tortoises and dried tortoise meat. I sure hope that the people of Madagascar will stand shoulder to shoulder with WWF and other global wildlife organizations in the battle to save these endangered tortoises in peril. Otherwise, as Ramahaleo pointed out, both the reptiles will disappear in less than fifty years if no serious action is taken.

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