Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Federal Plan to Save United States' Bat Population from Mysterious Disease

Reports of confirmed white nose syndrome cases among bats

A little brown bat diagnosed with white nose syndrome

In the northeastern United States, the population of the little brown bat has been greatly affected by a mysterious disease known as the white nose syndrome (WNS). This little known malady has been named for the whiteness seen on a bat's nose, and has claimed lives of more than 1 million bats in the Northeast. This disease was first identified in New York's Schoharie County in February 2006. It soon spread from the caves of New York to Vermont, Connecticut, and Massachusetts in two years. In early 2009, this disease epidemic was reported in New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. The most recent cases have been confirmed in Tennessee, as far west as Oklahoma, and even beyond the northern borders in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. A study in 2008 showed that one possible cause for this syndrome is a fungus called Geomyces destructans found on the bats' muzzles, legs, and all exposed skin tissues. This fungus is said to thrive during cold weather, and grow on hibernating bats in turn disrupting their normal patterns in which they wake up too frequently and starve to death. The symptoms include body fat loss, unusual winter behavior, and death.

Recently, a federal plan has been proposed to bring together resources across the nation for the development of a cure against this new and deadly disease. This movement is said to cover seven important elements, which include monitoring and researching the malady along with conserving key bat habitats. However, as with any newly-discovered disease, there is no quick fix. According to Ann Fronschauer, national WNS communications leader for the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), there is still a lot to be learned and that there are also several ordinary people helping out in search for the cure.

I'm extremely pleased to see that several people living in areas where the WNS as been reported have started to step up in the search for a cure against this rampant disease. Bats play an important role in controlling the insect population in not just their natural ecosystems, but also in people's too. Without bats, the entire U.S population would be prone to mosquitoes and other deadly insects that can be lethal to humans. Based on the number of reports of this disease and the current mortality rate, the white nose syndrome is like a chiroptera-equivalent of the bubonic plague. If this malady continues to spread across the U.S, more and more bats will fall victim. Also, in my opinion, it is not known whether WNS is a transmissible disease or not. Therefore, it is good that people are also considering to investigate and study this disease as a way to finding a cure for it.

The WNS is not the only malady that has got people searching for a cure. Another is the Chagas disease, a deadly epidemic that has been devastating the human population of Central and South America since its discovery in 1909 by a Brazilian physician named Dr. Carlos Chagas. This malady is caused by a protozoan called Trypanosoma cruzi, which is transmitted from a species of assassin bug under the genus Triatoma. Even though it has been 101 years since its discovery, there is currently no vaccine against this disease. As of now, the primary focus has been on the prevention of this disease. This includes improving housing and sanitary conditions in rural areas where people are prone to the malady. Similarly, there has not been a discovery made for a medicine against WNS lately. As of now, people are helping out by building bat boxes outside their homes and not venturing inside any caves. I just hope that there will one day be a cure for this disease. In the meantime, however, it is important to not to mess around with bats for the danger of disease transmission from humans.

View article here

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Gray Wolf Catches Salmon; Copies from the Grizzly Bear

The gray wolf has been viewed as the master when it comes to using teamwork. A highly social and determined hunter, it possesses tremendous endurance and stamina when it comes to hunting. Packs of these predators have been known to chase their prey for miles and miles until it tires out. Its mortal enemy, the grizzly bear, is the undisputed heavy-weight champion of the North American backwoods. While it is purely omnivorous and spends much of its time on berries and roots, the grizzly bear has mastered the art of patience in fishing. This is best seen when it stands in the middle of a stream, and waiting for salmon to swim against the current. Once the fish takes a leap out of the water, the bear immediately lunges towards it and gobbles it up in its jaws.

It seems that both the gray wolf and the grizzly bear are great examples of hunters in the western world. Each having its own unique technique when it comes to looking for food. But what if one of them by chance copied another one's technique? This example was seen recently in Alaska's Katmai National Park. There, a gray wolf spotted a grizzly bear peacefully fishing for salmon at a place called Brooks Falls and decided to try its luck. Surprisingly, none of the two enemies noticed each other. Like the bear, the wolf waited for the salmon, and when the moment came, it lunged for it and caught the fish in its jaws. This unusual behavior was captured by Paul Stinsa, a wildlife photographer from Chicago. He insisted that there was no trickery in his photography. This behavior even caught the eye of Ranger Peter Hamel, who stated that he had never seen anything like this before. Experts believe that the wolf copied the bear's fishing method, and successfully made a catch.

I'm simply blown away by this discovery. Usually a wolf would hunt in packs and bring down prey as powerful as a moose or bison, but this time, it went for something which does not regularly fall on its menu. Furthermore, how is it possible that a wolf could imitate the art of fishing from the grizzly bear? Normally, this behavior is associated with primates where it is often seen among young chimpanzees who would copy their parents when trying to build a shelter or forage for food. I think maybe part of this behavior may be that both the wolf and the bear, though separate species, evolved from the same ancestor(s). Both animals are part of suborder called caniformia, which consists of dog-like carnivores. However, I think this discovery maybe a key for scientists and researchers to study both the animals closely and come up with some more scientific proof to show that they are in a sense related to each other. But all in all, this truly is an amazing discovery which is worth investigating.

View article here   

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Two Philippine Fruit Bat Species on the Verge of Extinction

Giant golden-crowned flying fox

In the province of Negros Oriental in the Philippines, there has been deep and fearful concern about two types of fruit bats becoming extinct due to uncontrolled human activities and poaching. They are the Negros chevenous fruit bat, and the golden flying fox. Both of these bats have been identified as sources of food for the local people in areas, such as Valencia and Barangay Enrique Villanueva in Sibulan where they thrive because of the availability of fruits and flowers. The people have been known to catch these bats using nets and traps known locally as "balag-ong." This practice has been known to occur during the fruit-bearing season native fruit trees. According to Pol Carino, a wildlife advocate and an environmentalist, he learned about the illegal poaching of these bats during a lanzones season in Valencia. He was also deeply saddened about the animals' situation, and hopes that the PNP (Philippine National Police) will intensify its monitoring and law enforcements towards such illicit activities. In addition to that, other wildlife species threatened to extinction in the province include the Negros bleeding heart pigeon and the Negros forest frog. Of these two species, the forest frog is perceived as forest indicator, in which its presence is seen as proof that a forest is healthy and still growing.

I'm also saddened about the fate of these two fruit bat species. Both of these species, like other fruit bats, are known to play a vital role in the forest ecosystem in which they promote seed dispersal. That is, when they eat fruits, the seeds are digested out of their bodies which in turn transform into the trees of that particular fruit. If the bats disappear, then other wildlife species in Negros Oriental will too. And the forest frog is one of them. Without it, scientists, researchers, and nature lovers will not be able to tell whether a forest is healthy or not. I also feel that just hoping what the police will do regarding this environmental catastrophe will not help. It is best to establish research and rescue centers for these fruit bats, especially those who have been orphaned. This method has been done in Australia's Northern Territory where fruit bats are viewed as nuisance in local fruit farmers. If Australia can do it, then Philippines can too.

View article here

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Brahmaputra's River Dolphins Threatened by Large Dams

Ganges River dolphin

One of India's three major rivers, the Brahmaputra, is under threat by the construction of large dams along its tributaries. In addition to that, this project is also posing a great threat to one of its rarest inhabitants, the Ganges River dolphin. According to dolphin expert Dr. Abdul Wakid, the Brahmaputra River is one of the last refuges for the dolphins compared to the Ganges River which is impeded by dams. Dr. Wakid, who is also the head of Aaranyak's Gangetic Dolphin Dolphin Research and Conservation Program, stated that the situation will change once the dams are put into place as proposed in Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya.

In his recent survey conducted in the Brahmaputra River system, Dr. Wakid and his team recorded 264 dolphins. Out of that, 212 were in the Brahmaputra mainstream, 29 in Kulsi river, and 23 in Subansiri river. He further pointed out that of the 168 proposed dams to be built in the Northeast, the Lower Siang, Dibang, and Lower Demwe, the Lower Subansiri and Kulsi dams have been seen as the most threatening for the dolphins' survival. Among the causes include reduction of sediment flow, which is necessary to the formation of strem channel islands and bars. Dr. Wakid believes that these changes will affect the dolphins by changing the prey type and seasonal availability, the geomorphology of dolphin habitat, and even disrupting the natural flow regime of the river. Also, the Siang, Dibang, and Lohit rivers are the main water sources of water for the Brahmaputra and that the construction will cause tremendous fluctuation in the water levels. Furthermore, this project may reduce the dolphins' upstream migration. One example was seen in the Ranganadi River in Assam's Lakhimpur district, which reduces the dolphins' summer distribution by about thirty kilometers.

I firmly agree with Dr. Wakid's observations and warnings about how the dams will affect the dolphins in the Brahmaputra. These magnificent species are highly endangered, and require great protection. With a total of 264 animals recorded in Brahmaputra, I feel that the need to protect them is crucial as the river happens to be the last refuge for them. So far, the tiger has been the center of attention as seen articles about the International Tiger Summit in St. Petersburg but it is also important to consider the protection of other endangered species in this world. The Ganges River dolphin is one of them.

View article here

Friday, November 19, 2010

International Tiger Conservation Conference to be Held in St. Petersburg

Tiger in Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan, India
 The tiger has always been viewed as a symbol of power and beauty for countless generations. Unfortunately, this majestic creature has been facing the wrath of humanity through illegal poaching and the trade of its body parts. Conservation efforts had been made for many years, in order to save and protect the animal, yet rampant poaching and the illegal wildlife trade continues to take its toll. But now, it seems that there is a light of hope for the species' survival as representatives and politicians from thirteen Asian countries, including India, will be gathering in St. Petersburg on the 21st of November. The purpose of this global tiger summit will be to discuss various strategies and reach an agreement on how to protect the remaining 3,200 tigers left in the world with one goal in mind: to try to double the numbers by 2022. It is expected that the agreement will reach on November 23rd. Among the notable participants in this four-day conference will include Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, World Bank President Robert Zoellick, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, and even U.S Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The World Wildlife Fund states that this will be the first conference, in which world leaders will discuss the preservation of a single species. It has been estimated that $350 million are needed to increase the tigers' habitat and the fight against poachers and traders in tiger body parts.

Among the recent cases in tiger poaching include one in India's Sariska National Park, where a tiger was poisoned and one shot dead by poachers in eastern Russia. According to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), the penalties for tiger poachers remain mild and the perpetrators should receive a maximum of three years behind bars and a fine of $20,000. In addition to that, a research provided by the World Wildlife Fund and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) showed that the border region between Burma, Thailand, and China plays a major role in the illegal trade of tiger body parts. Also, a report was published by the World Wildlife Fund and wildlife trade monitoring group TRAFFIC saying that tiger body parts were being offered on black markets in the region, especially in parts of Burma where there is no direct government control.

I sure hope that the effect of this international conference will result in an increased protection for the world's tiger population, and intensify the battles against the poachers. According to Masha Vorontsova, director of IFAW Russia, the conference is the last chance for tigers. And I completely agree with that because I cannot see where the world will stand unless this meeting will turn to solid action and effective agreements to save the world's tiger population. Without the tiger, our world would change dramatically. However, I'm hopeful that the representatives from all thirteen Asian nations will come to an agreement to help save the world's tiger population. Also, with Ms. Hillary Clinton's presence, I hope that this will show how the U.S government will play a big role in pushing the conference forward.

View article here

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Australia's Great White Sharks- Accidental Migrants in the Mediterranean

Great white shark

Konyaalti Beach in Turkey; one of the possible locations of shark findings

A study recently showed that Australia's great white sharks had accidentally ended up along the Mediterranean after making a wrong turn on their migration routes back to the Aussie waters. Four sharks had been sighted in recent years off the coasts of SicilyTunisia, and Turkey. Interestingly, they all share the same DNA as their relatives Down Under. According to scientists, the ancestors of these predatory fist had found themselves near Mediterranean's coastline after making a navigational error. Fortunately, the later generation of these sharks turned out to be in low numbers. This is because white sharks return to their birthplace in the same way as salmon. Two years ago, two of these four sharks were captured in the Bay of Edremit in Turkey. The third one was sighted off the coast of Tunisia in 2006, and the fourth was found off Sicily twenty years ago.

Scientists believe that the original journey was made 450,000 years ago by a few pregnant female sharks. During this journey, the females probably had taken a wrong turn due to climate change, high sea levels, and some unusual ocean eddy currents known as Agulhas rings. Usually, the warm Agulhas Current flows down Africa's east coast. But sometimes an Agulhas ring carries its waters around the dark continent's southern tip, and into the Benguela Current off South Africa's west coast. The pregnant female sharks may have been led astray by the current due to severe climate change at that time, and continued to head west instead of east towards Australia. Once they reached the Atlantic Ocean, they were free from the currents and turned around and in turn ended up in the Mediterranean. According to Dr. Cathy Jones, a shark geneticist from the University of Aberdeen's School of Biological Sciences, once the sharks entered the mouth of the Mediterranean, they were trapped because the region's channels and peninsulas make it seem like a giant lobster trap. It has also been thought that the sharks' prey, which in this case the swordfish and bluefin tuna, had arrived to the region the same way as the predators.

This article, in my opinion, really defines one of the greatest phenomenons that had occurred on Earth over the period of time. In this case, it goes to show how great white sharks originally situated off Australia's coast had made their way up into the Mediterranean region due to climate change at the time. As a result, they have ended up flourishing in the region becoming an apex species. Thankfully for Mediterranean's inhabitants, the current generation of these sharks in small numbers. But over the period of time, Mediterranean's great white shark population will increase and may lead to numbers of attacks just like in Australia and South Africa. I sure hope that these sharks will receive some protection such that both they and Mediterranean people will be safe from each other.

View article here           

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Rise in Animal Cruelty Cases on New Zealand's South Island

Leopard Seal

The New Zealand SPCA has recently stated that there has been a surge in cases of animal cruelty on the nation's South Island. Ever since the attack on a leopard seal, the DOC (Department of Conservation) released pictures of wildlife attacked along the Catlins Coast. One incident involved tourists spotted a sea lion on the Surat Bay beach with a diving spear embedded in its chest, and another where one was found near the Nuggets with large cuts. There was also another case where an endangered yellow-eyed penguin was attacked and killed by dogs while nesting, and one more in which rottweiler dogs harassed a flock of penguins. Two years ago, a sea lion was shot in Cannibal Bay and hauled off the beach. Jim Fyfe, DOC Coastal Otago ranger, described the animal as if someone had put a rifle under its chin and blew its brains out. He stated that the biggest problem to such a mayhem are irresponsible dog owners, who allow their pets to roam off-leash. According to Charles Cadwallader, SPCA's national chief inspector, people are becoming more violent and cruel but it was hard to say why. Another person who believes in this idea is Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson, who stated that there are people who simply do not care about the damage they inflict. But what is even worse is that the organization itself is poorly resourced with only 93 inspectors, who are unpaid and too few investigators. He felt that the SPCA would benefit in further prosecuting the perpetrators with more money.

I'm deeply appalled that the residents of South Island are becoming cruel to their land's wildlife. Based on the statements made by Mr. Cadwallader, Mr. Fyfe, and Ms. Wilkinson, South Island's people just do not care about the damage they are inflicting in the environment. This is seen when they take their dogs outside for walks and other recreational activities. Also, even when there are people who do not own dogs, they still find some sort of way(s) to keep them entertained. However, the biggest problem with this surge in cruelty cases is that the SPCA does not have much resources in further prosecuting the perpetrators. I feel that New Zealand is in a great need of help regarding the resources because without them, the people of South Island will continue to pillage and plunder their local wildlife. Also, in addition to having severe penalties, it would further help to impose strict rules on dog-walkers when their dogs roam freely and kill an endangered wild animal. Plus, South Island residents should also be educated on the importance of their wildlife and what they can do in order to protect it and not annihilate it.

View article here 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Vows to Help Save the Eastern Swamp Deer

Swamp Deer

Recently, an Indian state-owned oil and gas company called Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) has made a decision to save the eastern swamp deer, a subspecies of swamp deer known locally as barasingha ('twelve horns'). Out of the three recognized subspecies, the eastern swamp deer is the most highly endangered with a population of just around 600 animals in Assam's Kaziranga National Park. According to Rathin Barman, Wildlife Trust of India's senior official, the eastern subspecies is at a higher risk of extinction compared to the Bengal tiger or the Indian one-horned rhinoceros and not much attention has been paid to it regarding its population state. Furthermore, an ONGC official stated that the company was happy to provide financial assistance to a project dedicated to the conservation of the subspecies. According to one source, there could be a plan for translocation of the eastern swamp deer from Kaziranga to other habitats in Assam in order to increase the population. In addition to that, ONGC has also been thinking of setting up a bird conservation center in the state with collaboration with the forest department.

I'm very happy to see that a major company has taken the initiative in helping with the conservation of India's wildlife. But what is really interesting is how there is an animal unique to India's biodiversity being given a great deal of attention, in addition to more recognizable ones such as the tiger and the rhinoceros. According to one Kaziranga park official, the eastern swamp deer, though low in numbers, has been managing to thrive well thanks to Kaziranga's healthy tiger population. However, he also stated that the population is at a great risk of disease transmission from domestic livestock. This, in my opinion, is one of the key facts explaining why the eastern swamp deer should deserve such attention. Without this primary source of food, the tiger population of Kaziranga would be greatly affected. I'm also happy to see that ONGC has been contemplating to help establish a bird conservation center in Assam. It goes to show how a big company is collaborating with the wildlife society of India in its wildlife conservation.

View article here 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Bangladesh's Herons and Egrets Threatened by Poachers

A Bangladeshi heron hunter showing his catch of the day

Point Calimere Wildlife Sanctuary in India's Tamil Nadu state has seen danger to its bird population after authorities had apprehended two poachers with egrets in their nets. But now, India's neighbor Bangladesh has become a witness to the plight of these wading birds. The vast marshlands in the country's northern regions have become a hot-bed for poachers, as they indiscriminately trap and kill the birds and sell their meat to customers in Dhaka. According to Dr. SMA Rashid, a wildlife expert, he has seen vendors selling these birds at different intersections of the capital city. But what is worse is that although the police know about this, they are not taking any action.

Egrets and herons were normally classified by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) as "Least Threatened," which means their population was satisfactory. But the poaching of these birds in Bangladesh's northern regions has reached the point that both the species face extinction. Environmentalists warn that the regions' ecosystem would come under threat, as the birds are disappearing rapidly. Furthermore, the poachers kill the birds using airguns which do not require a license making the situation worse along with low quantity of awareness against the practice and law enforcement not doing anything to stop it.

While the authorities have no statistics about the past and present numbers of the birds, but scientists and bird-watchers believed the number has reduced by half in the last twenty years. According to Hamidul Hoque, as assistant professor of zoology at Carmichael University College, the bird numbers are decreasing due to the lack of prey availability. He stated that indiscriminate use of fertilizers and pesticides, along with shrinking water bodies has led to the depletion of food for the birds and other animals. Other people who agree with the idea include Divisional Forest Officer Abdul Kalam Azad, District Live Stock Officer Shamsul Hoque, and Additional Director of the Department of Agriculture Extension Mohshin Ali. Also, the reason for not taking action has been addressed by Tapan Kumar Dey, conservator of forest wildlife division of the Forest Department. In his own words, the reason there was no action was because the nation does not have enough manpower but is doing is best with limited resources.

In my opinion, Bangladesh is in a great need of help regarding this terrible situation. By just saying the nation is doing its best is not enough to show that it is really handling the problem. I feel that Bangladesh's people need to team up together and if possible, seek help from India in order to put a stop to such a barbaric practice. Egrets and herons play an important role in the wetlands ecosystem of keeping it in balance. In addition to that, egrets, especially cattle egrets, play a key role in keeping the bodies of cattle and other large herbivores free of parasites. Without them, it will create a major impact on the cattle population in Bangladesh and lead to a downfall which would deeply affect the population of villagers. However, I'm satisfied to see that there is a sense of hope where a bird lover named Hashem Ali has been keeping vigil of poachers and convinced the villagers never to cut down bamboo brushes which the birds rely on for shelter. But still, it is important that serious must be taken in order to curb down this brutal practice.

View article here            

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Mortality Rate Hits a Record High

Grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park

The Yellowstone National Park in the states of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana is considered to be one of the most spectacular attractions in the United States. The park is known for its unique geography consisting of pine forests, grassy meadows, snow-covered mountains, and iconic hot springs that helped shape this garden of Eden for generations. It is also one of the key hotspots in the U.S providing a rich variety of wildlife. One of the well-known inhabitants of the park are grizzly bears. Proposed as endangered species in the 1970s, these gargantuan wonders successfully flourished all over the park much to the delight of nature lovers. However, in more recent times, the population state of these magnificent beasts has been facing a bleak future.

Just recently this year, Yellowstone's mortality rate has reached a record high of 49 animals, towering the old record of 48 two years ago. The primary cause for such deaths is the loss of high-calorie foods such as the cutthroat trout and whitebark pine nuts, which the bears rely on heavily for their survival. With the loss of these key food sources, the bears are forced to search for food close to human habitations which in this case are cattle grazing allotments south and east of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Even worse is that the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has proclaimed to open a legal hunting season for the bears, especially when they prey on the cattle. The department did mention about relocating the animals away from such lands, but the bears end up in areas where they come into conflict with humans in turn worsening the situation. The year has also seen a record number of human-bear conflicts. One incident occurred on June 17th when a relocated grizzly bear attacked and killed a man near the Shoshone River. Another was where a mother bear accompanied with her cubs had terrorized a campground in Shoshone National Forest, injuring two people and killing one man.

I have a deep feeling that Yellowstone's grizzly bears need help. More importantly, the state of Wyoming is in a great need of help regarding its bear population. I personally feel that instead of proposing an open hunting season for these animals, conservationists and researchers should do something regarding their staple food diet of cutthroat trout and whitebark pine nuts. In my opinion, the first step would be to closely investigate the disappearance of these food sources and then make a final judgment. Because one cannot just propose a hunting season on a certain apex species of animals like grizzly bears when the population increases beyond the borders of a national park. There has to be some investigation done in knowing what caused that population to expand at such a rate.

View article here

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Migratory Birds Fall Prey to Poachers in Point Calimere Wildlife Sanctuary

Spoon-billed sandpiper; One of the critically endangered migratory birds to India

Tamil Nadu's Point Calimere Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the key hotspots in India for avian enthusiasts as migratory birds flock down there every winter and mingle with the local bird populations. Unfortunately, the annual winter migration also draws poachers to the sanctuary who have been known to lay nets and other traps for the birds and selling them as delicacies in and around the district of Nagapattinam. Besides laying traps, the perpetrators have been known to use recorded sounds of different birds to lure them in. Recently, forest officials apprehended two poachers and fined them them 10,000 rupees. Moreover, they also found a youth from the village of Prandhiyan Karai in Vedaranyam municipality on Monday with two egrets. He faced a penalty of 6,000 rupees. According to S. Balachandran, an ornithologist and assistant director of the Bombay Natural History Society, these incidents also involve native birds as well as the migratory species who arrive during the October-November season. He also pointed out that local villagers need to be taught about the significance of their feathery neighbors. The incidents had been running rampant in the villages of Pushpavanam, Thanikottagam, and Thethakudi. In those villages, the residents asserted that the birds were being shipped to consumers abroad in Middle EastMalaysia, and Singapore. One bird enthusiast from Vedaranyam claimed that the birds are sent to those countries in form of raw or cooked meat. He further added that some buyers in the nearby village of Thupputhurai would pay the poachers 5,000 rupees in advance to sell them a pair of egrets every day. He also stated that there were 65 people in Vedaranyam's taluk (administrative division), each with licensed double-barrel guns as well as several unlicensed firearms. In response, District Forest Officer K. Soundarapandian promised that forest officials had turned tough against the poachers this year. In his own words, the perpetrators will be fined even if they are seen with nets.

This article, in my opinion, gives a clear message how one of India's most spectacular events is being tremendously affected. India has been one of the key stops for several migratory birds, who fly down from as far as Siberia and the Arctic Circle. And one of the places to see them is in Point Calimere, which falls all they way down in southern India. With so many birds flocking in from the north, it is no wonder that Point Calimere is a bird lover's paradise along with Keoladeo Ghana and Nal Sarovar Sanctuaries in northern and western India. I am, however, glad to see that forest officials have now taken a step further in toughening up the laws targeted towards the poachers in and around Point Calimere. This way, the migratory bird species will continue to flock every winter.

View article here        

1,000 Tigers Killed in Last Ten Years

Siberian tigers in China's Heilongjiang province

A report was recently released providing details of the illegal trade in tiger body parts. According to illegal wildlife trade monitoring network, TRAFFIC, at least 1,069 tigers have been slaughtered in the last decade in nations where they roam. In turn, resulting for an average of more than hundred of the big cats killed each year. Of the eleven countries where tigers live, studies in the report showed that China, India, and Nepal have ranked highest in the number of seizures of tiger body parts. India, by far, had the highest with 276 seizures, representing between 469 and 533 animals. China, on the other hand, reported 40 seizures, the second largest between 116 and 124 tigers. Nepal came close to China with 39 seizures representing between 113 and 130 animals. According to Mike Baltzer, leader of World Wildlife Fund's Tigers Alive initiative, the reason behind this crisis is either the ineffectiveness of law enforcement efforts or the efforts themselves are an insufficient deterrent. He further stated that the seizures and arrests should be followed by a swift prosecution and proper sentencing. The studies in this report have shown staggering results in the current tiger population of the world. Even more appalling is that India, Nepal, and China have been recorded to have the highest numbers of seizures in tiger body parts. All three nations had earlier vowed to help each other in curbing down the illegal poaching and trading of wild tigers between them. But now, it seems they are not doing an effective job in curbing down such illicit activities.

As a person of Indian origin, I'm extremely disgusted at the whopping number of seizures made in the motherland. I feel that the law enforcement efforts are either futile, or they are an incapable determent. India really has to step up to the plate to protect its national animal, along with its northern neighbors, in order to put a stop to further fluctuation. I can only hope that a tiger summit held in St. Petersburg later this month (September was a mistake) will address this issue, followed by several tiger poaching cases in eleven tiger countries. And hopefully come up and establish new and improvised law and conservation efforts to halt the ongoing tiger poaching crisis before 2022 (the next year of the tiger).

View article here    

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Drought Threatens Amazon River Dolphins

Amazon river dolphins

South America has recently witnessed a drought that has almost halved the numbers of Amazon river dolphins over the past year. A survey conducted by conservationists showed that the drought has been shifting down from the upper reaches of the Amazon River in Peru, to the Amazon Basin resulting in the downfall of the local fish population. This has led to a drop of dolphin numbers in the Peruvian Amazon by 47 percent. According to Dr. Richard Bodmar, an ecologist from University of Kent who has been working with an environmental charity called Earthwatch, the extremely low levels of water in tributaries to the river have had a major impact on the dolphin numbers. He also stated that the drought has moved further downstream with similar effects seen elsewhere in the basin. He further added, that in addition to Amazon river dolphins, the population of another unique species the grey river dolphin had plummeted to 49 percent last year. Even worse is that the drought could also have major impact on other Amazonian wildlife making its home in South America.

I feel that this is a crucial time to start helping these wild animals, who rely deeply on the river and its tributaries. The dolphins play a key role in the river ecosystem not just for other animals, but also the local people who live around the river. That is, they are important indicators of clean water that tell scientists and researchers. Without them, how will people and other animals be able to survive in the basin? I also feel that in addition to this drought, the population of the dolphin is also under threat from illegal poaching as fishermen use their meat as bait. At this time, the numbers of these aquatic mammals are critical and should receive full attention. I sure hope that something can be done to help the population of these creatures from further fluctuation. I think one reason for this drought to reach such extreme levels could be global warming (I could be wrong). But now, it appears that the clock is ticking.

View article here

SANParks Authorities Caught Killing Jackals

Black-backed jackal

Authorities of SANParks (South African National Parks), a body responsible for managing South Africa's national parks, have recently been caught after killing 340 jackals in an experiment to reboost diminishing antelope population in two national parks. Conservationists have accused the perpetrators of scientific and ethical motives and of trying to hide the cull as an experiment. In the months of May and September this year, 132 jackals were killed in Karoo National Park, 73 in the Darlington section of Addo Elephant National Park, and 139 in the Kuzuko section of that same park. According to the authorities, the killings were part of a jackal research project. According to Bool Smuts, director of the Landmark Foundation who is involved in jackal research, stated that it was indeed a cull being posed as an experiment and that jackals are the only factors contributing to the downfall of the antelope population. In his words, there are many possible issues that could lead to the decimation and not just a pack of crafty opportunistic predators.

I feel that Mr. Smuts was right at what he said about the "research project" being a cull. Though jackals may not be considered apex predators like lions, they do play an important role in maintaining the ecological balance in South Africa. For example, in addition to small antelope, they feast on reptiles and invertebrates which may be perceived as threat by local farmers. Without jackals, the ecosystems of these two national parks where the killings had occurred this year will experience a great deal of ecological imbalance as the population of some species of organism (antelopes, reptiles, invertebrates, etc.) will keep growing and growing until they no longer will be able to hold such massive numbers. Thankfully, SANParks researchers have stated that the culling has stopped and are now aiming to monitor population densities of jackals and antelopes. And hopefully this way, the populations of both species will be recovered.

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Indian Elephant Smuggling Ring Busted

Indian elephants

The Indian police have recently thwarted what they believe is a transnational elephant smuggling ring. It happens to be a new threat to one of the nation's most iconic animals. According to police officers in Assam, five people were arrested and three elephants were rescued including two calves. The animals were bound to be illegally transported across the country and even abroad via trucks. During the raid, documents were gathered which suggested that the ring may have been responsible for smuggling nearly hundred elephants over the past five years. It was previously thought that transporting one elephant would require an extensive documentation process, along with a chief wildlife officer's permission. However, in this case, the elephants had been smuggled in the same way as humans, with fake documents prepared and bribes paid to officials.

The raid was a result of contact by a local wildlife group called the Green Heart Nature Club. According to the group's director, Bablu Dey, the ring was thought to be responsible for smuggling at least 92 elephants. The animals were captured across the northeast, and brought to Assam. The group also believed that the elephants were kept in remote villages before being smuggled. Mr. Dey further added that the illegal operation was being driven chiefly by wealthy businessmen in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar who wanted to keep the animals as symbols of status. He also stated that there was evidence the animals were being smuggled beyond India's borders, with some to Nepal and Burma. P.K Dutta, police superintendent in Assam's Kokhrajar district, had a different theory. He believed that the ring may have been smuggling as many as ten elephants when it was busted. He further added that the smugglers trained the animals for a year or two after capturing them, and claimed that they were the offspring of Assam's many domestic animals.

It's very interesting to hear about two different theories, but it is not known which is true. I personally find Mr. Dey's theory very gripping because it gives an idea about the driving force of this illegal elephant smuggling ring. It turns out to be wealthy businessmen, who wanted to keep these animals as status symbols. It is also interesting to see that the documents uncovered during the raid showed that the elephants were being smuggled in the same way as people. However, it is easy to say that the ring is a result of devastating the animals' population in the nation. I personally think that if this wildlife group and the police work together, then maybe it will result in knowing the real story behind the smuggling ring.

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India's Owl Population Under Threat of Superstition

A young Indian boy with an owl

TRAFFIC, the leading group monitoring the illegal wildlife trade, has recently issued a report in which thousands of India's owls are sacrificed on "prosperous" occasions. The reason India's owls are being destroyed is due to black magic rituals. In addition to that, half of the nation's thirty owl species are caught and sold alive. The report further adds that the regular practices of sacrifices will increase around Diwali, the Indian festival of lights. Also, it highlights that the killing of owls is driven by superstition and taboos. Other groups who are supporting the concern are WWF India and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Even Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh received the news. According to him, owls are important to India's ecosystems along with tigers.

I'm deeply shocked to see that such animals are being killed out of superstition, especially when it happens to be on the week of India's most auspicious holiday. Diwali is supposed to be the time of celebrating the triumph of good over evil, and not sacrificing any animal that plays a key role in the nation's ecosystem. The way I see it, this superstitious practice is the evil and should be conquered as with any element driving the illegal wildlife trade. Without owls, how will the farmers benefit when their crops become prone to destruction by rodents? I am, however, glad to see that Minister Ramesh has shown deep concern over this matter and I sure hope that some serious action will be taken in order to conquer it once and for all.

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