Thursday, December 22, 2011

Gujarat State Government Allows 1,500 Hectares for Bustard Conservation

Great Indian bustards

As part of a plan to increase a wildlife conservation program in Gujarat, the state government has allowed 1,500 hectares of land in Kutch district for developing habitat for the great Indian bustard. According to M. Thennarasan, district collector of Kutch district, this was done upon the request of the forest department for the conservation of the critically endangered bird. The land stands near the Kutch Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary, and is spread across a two square-kilometer area in Nalia taluka which is considered to be the best breeding ground for the bustards. The last census conducted in 2007 showed that there were 47 birds in the sanctuary. Chief Conservator of Forest D.K Sharma stated that the area given is presently damaged, as a result of agriculture and human intrusion. For this reason, the forest department will first stop any form of human activity and then develop the habitat. Mr. Sharma further added that they are also planning to ask the government of India to declare the area as an eco-fragile zone under the Environment Protection Act. In addition to that, forest officials stated that plans to cover over 3,500 hectares for the same purpose is still under consideration.

I'm very happy and proud to see what the government of Gujarat is doing, in order to help the great Indian bustard. This news clearly shows how another state, besides Maharashtra, has taken an initiative in helping to revive its population in India. Most of the articles I've been writing about primarily deal with the bustard population in Maharashtra alone. This magnificent bird also thrives in Gujarat and Rajasthan, where its numbers are said to be highest. However, a recent report by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has found that the bustard population has been shrinking rapidly. The birds have disappeared from about ninety percent of their range, while approximately 75 percent decline has been seen within a three-generation time scale. But now, with this plan to convert more land into its habitat along with other strategies, the bustard maybe on the verge of making a comeback. It is all going to depend on the involvement of those who are helping, and those who want to help bring this bird back from the brink of extinction.

View article here     

India's Great Himalayan National Park Nominated as UNESCO World Heritage Site

The view of Great Himalayan National Park in the morning

It has been recently reported that the Great Himalayan National Park in India's state of Himachal Pradesh has been named in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The nomination for this prestigious status had been sent by the state's wildlife and forest department to the UNESCO, and the same has been accepted. The Great Himalayan National Park will be honored with the title next year after its evaluation by a team of international experts from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In addition to the Great Himalayan National Park, three other national parks and wildlife sanctuaries have also been nominated by the UNESCO. These include the Bhitarkanika National Park in Orissa, which is renowned to have the largest population of saltwater crocodiles in Asia. Others include West Bengal's Neora Valley National Park and the Desert National Park of Rajasthan, which is well-known for containing fossils of plants and animals dating back as early as 180 million years. Some other national parks that are already UNESCO World Heritage Sites are Assam's Kaziranga and Manas National Parks, Keoladeo Ghana National Park in Rajasthan, Sunderbans National Park of West Bengal, and Uttarakhand's Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks.
The Himalayan monal pheasant is one of many species of animals at home in the national park.

I'm extremely happy to see that the Great Himalayan National Park has been honored, becoming the third national park in the Himalayas to be nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The national park is truly well-known for its natural beauty consisting of both alpine and coniferous forests, emerald-green pastures, snow-covered mountains, steep valleys, and a number of waterfalls and streams. Located at an altitude of 1500 to 6000 mm and covering an area of 1,171 square kilometers, it has one of the richest biodiversities in the western Himalayas. Some of the notable mountain-dwelling wildlife includes bharal, the so-called blue sheep, along with the Himalayan goral, serow, and tahr. There are also powerful predators in this heavenly oasis, like the Himalayan brown bear, the Indian leopard, and the elusive snow leopard. Among the bird life, the most notably spectacular are the pheasants. These include the species such as the Himalayan monal, koklass pheasant, and the western tragopan. With such abundance of wildlife, the state government of Himachal Pradesh has conducted many projects for its benefit. It has been reported that the Himalayan Snow Leopard Research Center will soon be established near the Kibbar village in Spiti Valley to preserve the species in its natural habitat, along with conducting research and development program over the same time. There is even a plan to start a breeding program for the monal pheasant near the hill station of Manali. Overall, I have full faith that this national park will be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

View article here

Blackbuck Poached by Indian Army Soldiers in Bikaner

A blackbuck

A few weeks ago, it was found that a team of five soldiers in the Indian Army had allegedly poached three chinkaras (Indian gazelles) in Rajasthan's Barmer district. But this time, the Army is once again under the heat as three soldiers had allegedly poached a blackbuck at the Mahajan Field Firing Range in Bikaner on Monday night. Once a team of forest officials led by the district forest officer (DFO) reached the spot where the had incident occurred, the perpetrators had washed the blood stains off a Maruti Gypsy used in the activity. The team, however, was able to recover cooked meat, fur, and collected blood samples for the forensic laboratory. The forest department has filed a case under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 against the soldiers, known as jawans, who are yet to be identified. DFO Arun Saxena stated that the men were part of the Army's 270 unit's 23rd mechanized unit, who entered the firing range via a Maruti Gypsy at 1:00 A.M and poached a blackbuck. When the forest department officials reached the camp upon receiving information, they had to wait a long time during which the suspects tried to remove the cooked meat and wash the vehicle. However, the team was able to get hold of evidence consisting of a few strands of blackbuck hair, cooked meat inside a deep freezer, and blood samples. The matter is in court, in which the Army has began a court of inquiry while the forest department has taken the court's shelter for calling the jawans for inquiry. According to Colonel S.D Goswami, spokesperson for the defense, the matter is being investigated and severe action will be taken against those found guilty of the crime.

I'm deeply appalled by this incident and the one from few weeks ago involving our nation's army officials. But I also think that both of these news highlight the fact that even the individuals the public regards as heroes can cross the line into committing evil deeds. In this case, it involves soldiers in the Indian Army. What really surprised me is that the incident took place near a village, which not only resulted in the death of the animal but also disturbed the peace. In addition to that, the villagers living near such locations have been complaining about the hunting of wildlife near their villages. I think this could indicate that the people belong to the Bishnoi community. For generations, they have been noted for their strong love towards nature and would do anything to protect the wildlife that roams freely near their villages. This was especially seen in the case of Salman Khan when he was caught poaching while on location for one of his films. I sure hope that the Indian Army will learn from these separate incidents, and will enforce stricter rules towards the soldiers when they are out camping somewhere in the wilderness of India. They are the heroes of this nation, and their sole purpose is to serve it; not exploit it.

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Florida Lawmakers Urge the Obama Administration to Ban Trade in Large Snakes

A Burmese python

A group of nine Florida lawmakers is urging the Obama Administration to stop delaying action on a legislation that would ban the import of large constricting snakes that have been causing major problems in South Florida. The nine lawmakers have spoken in support of the rule's finalization to list nine species of these large snakes as "injurious" under the Lacey Act. This rule, which was asserted by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, had been waiting to be put into action since March of this year. The most recent letter was written by House of Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Norm Dicks and former chairman C.W. Bill Young in affiliation with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). A similar letter signed by seven representatives of Florida was sent to the White House this November. That same month, Senator Bill Nelson wrote a letter concerning the Burmese pythons. South Florida has been invaded by these gigantic snakes for past several years. Experts estimate that there are anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 pythons living in the Everglades area, and are possibly a result of pet owners setting them free.
The Everglades are under constant threat of pythons and other invasive species because of the pet trade.

I also firmly believe that the Obama Administration should place a ban in trade of these gigantic snakes. These pythons are not only an invasive threat to the native species in Florida, but they also pose grave danger to the general public. Even though they are inexpensive to keep, they can grow to be more than twenty feet long and weigh over hundred. Incidents involving Burmese pythons being kept as pets have resulted in serious injuries to people, but some cases have resulted in deaths. Among those who end up this way are young children and regular pets, such as cats and dogs. This basically highlights the dangers of keeping wild animals as pets, and it is a matter which must be looked at by the federal government. Pythons are also a major threat to Florida's native wildlife, especially to endangered species such as the wood stork and the Florida Key deer. If they continue to slither free in the native habitats, the populations of such native wild animals would disappear completely. They even pose a threat to restoration efforts in the Everglades. This is why it is crucial to place a ban in the trade of these snakes and other exotic species that are terrorizing Florida.

View article here

Interpol Operation Attacks Illegal Wildlife Trade in Asia

Birds confiscated as a result of Operation Stocktake

It has been recently reported that an operation coordinated by the INTERPOL has dealt a major blow to international wildlife crime networks in Asia. This operation had resulted in raids, investigations, and arrests across the region in the battle against the illegal wildlife trade of endangered species. Known as Operation Stocktake, the sting took place from December 1-12. During that time period, law enforcement agencies from India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand investigated markets, restaurants, and shops to identify individuals selling and trading endangered wildlife along with legal products.
Wildlife meat confiscated in Malaysia

In India, the nation's Wildlife Crime Control Bureau conducted investigations in 37 shops, resulting in arrests of ten suspects facing criminal prosecutions for trading items such as ivory and leopard claws. In addition to that, the bureau also recovered a number of birds along with marine animals such as sea cucumbers and seashells. In Indonesia, officers from the Specialized Crime Department of the National Police carried out a similar operation from Jakarta. The East Kalimantan Regional Police took four suspects into custody believing to have been responsible for killing orangutans. They even confiscated firearms, and what were believed to be orangutan bones. Officers from Malaysia's Department of Wildlife and National Parks searched 21 shops and restaurants, leading to arrests of four people facing charges for possession of endangered species. One restaurant was under investigation for selling civet, porcupine, and wild boar meat. The Thailand Police's Natural Resources and Environmental Crime Division focused its efforts on the Chatuchak Market in Bangkok, which is known for being a center for wildlife trafficking. The investigators are currently developing and studying intelligence accumulated during the operation, and the investigations are still continuing. All four countries involved in the operation uncovered such offenses, and are working with the organization to go after international leads.

The operation was applauded by many INTERPOL officials. Some like Bernd Rossbach, the organization's Acting Executive Director for Police Services, stated that it demonstrates the global network's backbone in planning operations against such transcontinental crimes. He further added that INTERPOL works 190 member countries, and helps battle crimes considered as threat to global environmental security and human health. INTERPOL's Wildlife Crime Officer Justin Gosling also added that the operation was a strong start to a series of actions against regional wildlife crime networks. These global syndicates are not just a threat to the animals and their welfare, but also danger to public health through spread of diseases such as zoonosis which can be spread from animals to humans. I'm also very much proud and happy to see the INTERPOL is working alongside several local wildlife crime enforcement agencies in nations notorious for being centers of the illegal wildlife trade. I very much believe that the INTERPOL can further strengthen its alliance with other countries in places like Africa, where the bushmeat trade is playing a major role in the lives of people and Europe where the illegal caviar trade is taking a major toll on the sturgeon population. This way, the whole world will be able to combat this ongoing threat that is not just hazardous to animals but also people.

View article here  

Monday, December 19, 2011

Shooting Death of Female Mexican Wolf Upsets Environmentalists

Close-up of Mexican wolf

A recent shooting of a female Mexican wolf in southwestern New Mexico has troubled environmentalists. She was released into the wild earlier this year with hopes of mating with a male wolf. Unfortunately, her death has marked the latest blow in the government's effort to bring these magnificent wolves back to their former haunts in the American Southwest. The incident had occurred on a private land near a mountain community of Beaverhead. Officials with the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed that the female was seen hanging around a ranch at the northeastern edge of Gila National Forest. She was reported to have lost fear of humans, and had even been socializing with the local domestic dogs. Tom Buckley, the agency's spokesman, stated that numerous attempts were made to tranquilize the wolf to return her to captivity, but the wildlife managers could not get close enough. There were even concerns for public safety, which led to the wolf being killed. Some environmentalists like Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity blamed this female's death for the lack of releases over the years. He stated that had more wolves were released, then the female might not have resorted to any dogs.
A typical wolf-dog hybrid

I'm also deeply troubled and saddened by this loss, and even I firmly agree with Mr. Robinson. There are a total of 300 Mexican wolves living in captive breeding centers around the U.S and in Mexico. Meanwhile, there are just fifty wolves living in the wilds of the American Southwest. This is a critical situation, and releases must be made as soon as possible. This female that was shot dead near a ranch was seen to have socialized with the local dogs. But what is truly shocking is that she had once mated with a dog last spring, and had a litter of hybrid pups. In my opinion, this is another threat that is affecting the Mexican wolves. Mating with domestic dogs, resulting in hybrids that could one day outnumber the pure genetic wolf population in the region. This could also result in spreading of diseases like canine distemper, which would affect other wolves that have been released into the wild. This is why I believe that anyone living in an area frequented by wolves should keep their dogs safe such that they do not come into contact with their wild ancestors. In addition to that, illegal shootings, courtroom battles, management hurdles and feuding among environmentalists, ranchers and politicians have slowed down the population from increasing. The American Southwest must do something about the current wolf population in the region. Just feuding in courts will only make matters worse. There are 300 of these animals in captivity, which in my opinion is more than enough to reintroduce them back into the wild. These animals are a keystone species, and they help maintain the ecological balance of the desert ecosystem. Action must be taken, as these wolves would one day disappear from earth as a result of carelessness combined with illegal shooting.

View article here       

Sunday, December 18, 2011

New Horned Viper Species Discovered in Tanzania; Location Kept Secret

The Matilda's horned viper

It has been recently reported that scientists have discovered a new species of horned viper in a remote forest in Tanzania. This remarkable viper was called Matilda's horned viper, a name given by one of the discoverers Tim Davenport's daughter. It  measured up to two feet in length, and has evolved from its closest ancestor over two million years ago. However, this uniquely-colored snake is said to survive in a small fragment of habitat and is believed to be a critically endangered species. Therefore, its discoverers are now working to protect the species from any would-be threats. Part of the protection to ensure its survival is to keep the location a secret, but the team has also established an emergency conservation program.
Head study of the Matilda's horned viper

In order to keep the species safe, researchers have collected eleven snakes for captive breeding. These include four males, five females, and two juveniles. The offspring are also a guarantee against extinction. The researchers say that they are going one step further to anticipate the illegal pet trade. Mr. Davenport explained that he and the team are planning to make first few dozen offspring available from their captive population, in order to provide the market with captive-bred specimens. He further added that the goal is to avoid collecting wild specimens, lower the animal's price, and encourage responsible captive breeding in countries where the demand is high. Mr. Davenport also stated that the ultimate aim is to raise awareness and support for a community-based forest conservation program.
Matilda's horned viper showing off its distinctive color pattern

I find this discovery to be a very remarkable moment for the world of wildlife and conservation. This horned viper is truly one of the most fascinating serpents on the face of the earth. For example, it is closely related to the local forest horned viper but is larger in size, has a more unique coloration, and even a distinctive scale pattern on its head. In addition to that, genetic testing has shown that this snake can be separated by 2.2 million years ago. I also find this technique of keeping the location of the viper's discovery a secret from the outside world interesting. In fact, I think it is one effective method in order to protect a certain species from threats from the brink of extinction. While it is not clear how many total individuals maybe inhabiting the area, surveys by these researchers have shown that this viper survives in an area smaller than hundred square kilometers. Therefore, it was crucial for them to keep the location a secret. I also believe that a technique like this should be implemented in other parts of the world known for their diversity in wildlife. This way, it would allow scientists, conservationists, and other wildlife officials to conduct conservation efforts to save the wildlife from any potential man-made threats.
A Matilda's horned viper in its habitat

View article here

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Colorado and South Dakota Contemplated for Yellowstone Bison Relocation

Bison outside Yellowstone National Park

Earlier in one of my posts, I had written about an article in which tribal groups lent their support to Yellowstone's bison relocation on a couple Indian reservations up in Montana. This time, it appears that this project will possibly extend further in the states of Colorado and South Dakota in an effort to decrease periodic slaughter of these animals leaving the Yellowstone National Park. Although this idea marked for the first time in decades that the federal government is considering to move the wandering animals elsewhere in the nation, it did not sit well with Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer. He condemned the proposal stating his concern that the effort would allow diseases such as brucellosis and chronic wasting diseases to spread across the nation. Instead, he proclaimed to have the animals transferred to Montana's National Bison Range near the town of Moiese.
The view of the badlands in the northern section of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

However, the Interior Department rejected Governor Schweitzer's proclamation stating that the plan would stigmatize the animals that are already there and would make it harder to transfer Yellowstone's bison to other states that are worried about the spread of diseases. In addition to that, wildlife officials stated that Governor Schweitzer's rule of blocking the department's fish and wildlife shipping could affect the federal trout hatcheries that produce more than a million fish annually. Among the active members in pushing forward this bison relocation effort is Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who told Governor Schweitzer in a letter that the agency is looking into possible relocation sites in Colorado and South Dakota. Among these sites include Colorado's Great Sand Dunes National Park, and a portion of the Badlands National Park in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The relocation of the animals could be done in collaboration with the Nature Conservancy, who owns the Zapata Ranch adjacent to the Great Sand Dunes while those in South Dakota would be managed in alliance with the local Oglala Lakota Tribe.
The Great Sand Dunes National Park of Colorado

I'm very much proud to see that the conservation effort has taken a new turn into looking at other possible relocation sites for Yellowstone's increasing bison population elsewhere in the nation. Not only do they include Indian reservations, but also other national parks where they had once roamed centuries ago. I firmly believe that Yellowstone's bison should be relocated in other places in the nation's Great Plains region where they had long disappeared. These places could include Indian reservations, since the animal has been the major component of the culture and history of the Native Americans for generations. Not only did these people rely on the animals for food, but they also worshiped them as representatives of their spirit and reminders of how they lived their lives in harmony with nature. By bringing the bison, it would be a way of reviving that spirit that had long been affiliated with Native Americans for generations. In addition to that, these animals are a keystone species whose grazing has shaped the ecology of the region. Therefore, reintroducing the animals in such places will help in the rejuvenation of patches of lands where they had long disappeared. Also, before attempting any relocation processes, it would be useful to check any animals for brucellosis. The bison maybe an animal who has received a great deal of attention regarding the disease, but there is also a similar problem with Yellowstone's elk population which should also be looked at.

View article here

Recent Discoveries in the Mekong- Colored Gecko and Snub-nosed Monkey

The Mekong region

The Greater Mekong region of Southeast Asia is renowned for being one of the few biodiversity hotspots where new species of wildlife is discovered. Among the recent discoveries made include a unique colored gecko discovered on the Hon Khoai Island in southern Vietnam's Ca Mau Province. This reptile is very much psychedelic in appearance, sporting a variety of colors. These include bright orange legs, a yellow neck, and a blue-gray body with yellow bars on each side. Another is a black and white snub-nosed monkey, which is very much similar to its more attractive golden snub-nosed monkey of China. This unusual monkey is reported to have a "hairstyle" similar to that of Elvis Presley, and is found in the mountains of Burma's Kachin state. However, this region, like many such places, is vulnerable to threats such as deforestation and illegal poaching of wildlife. Some of the animals like the Irrawaddy dolphins are highly endangered as a result of human encroachment. But the most recent tragedy the Mekong had ever witnessed was the loss of the last Vietnamese Javan rhinoceros to extinction. This incident has marked the ongoing threats of poaching and the illegal wildlife trade continuing to exploit the natural treasures of a pristine ecosystem considered by many scientists and researchers as paradise.
This multicolored gecko is one of the recent discoveries made in the Mekong.

Whenever I hear about a news highlighting a recent discovery of some new species of animal, it immediately astonishes me knowing that some corners of the world abound with a rich variety of wildlife. But at the same time, I feel concerned that these regions are vulnerable to man-made threats ranging from deforestation to poaching. And with the discovery of new species like this gecko and monkey, it makes me wonder what will their future be like. Will they stay continue to flourish in numbers, or will they succumb to extinction? My only feeling is that the Mekong is a fragile paradise that must be tightly protected to ensure its species' survival. One of its animals, the Vietnamese Javan rhinoceros, has recently become extinct. Although this incident highlights the plight of poaching and the illegal wildlife trade, it should also be considered as a wake-up call to intensify the conservation efforts in order to ensure the species' survival.

View article here

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

India's Chinkara Gazelle Slaughter- A Military Connection

Chinkara heads uncovered at the Indian Army camp in Rajasthan.

The blackbuck and the chinkara (Indian gazelle) are two of the most elegant and graceful antelopes native to the Indian subcontinent. Their proud and auspicious looks, not to mention their swift flying gaits have made them favorite subjects for wildlife photographers and filmmakers. However, these magnificent antelopes are also one of the most highly endangered animals in India. Since the Mughal era and the British Raj, they were hunted in countless numbers for the thrill of sport hunting. But as time progressed, conservation efforts began to revive their populations and saved them from being pushed to the brink of extinction. However, poaching has always remained a major threat to these antelopes and reports of such gruesome incidences continued to make the news. But none rang alarm bells across the nation more so than one which occurred in 1998 involving Bollywood's heartthrob Salman Khan. While filming for his film Hum Saath Saath Hain, he ran into major trouble for allegedly poaching these antelopes along with his co-stars. The incident shocked the entire nation, especially the Bishnoi community who are known for their tremendous love for nature. Seven years later, the late Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi suffered a similar fate when he was arrested for killing a blackbuck. But now, there is a new figure that has become involved in this ongoing mayhem: the Indian Army.

The incident took place when five infantrymen, known as "jawans", hunted three chinkaras in Rajasthan's Barmer district while participating in the Sudarshan Shakti exercise on the Indo-Pakistani border. The alleged perpetrators were identified as Subedar Gopilal, Havildar (Sergeant) D.R Nath, Nayak N. Sarkar, Lance Nayak P.R Pardesi, and Sipahi D.R Naidu. According to P.R Bhadu, Territorial District Forest Officer (DFO), officials rushed down to the camp where the men were stationed after being informed by the local villagers. Upon hearing the officials' raiding the camp, all five soldiers escaped. At the camp, the officials uncovered some gruesome evidence: the severed heads of the gazelles and some uncooked meat. They also found an army vehicle covered in bloodstains used while hunting. It was seized for forensic examinations. As part of the investigation, defense spokesperson S.D Goswami stated that a court of inquiry was ordered to look into the matter. He further added that if the perpetrators were found guilty, they would be dealt with harshly. In addition to that, Rajpal Singh of the state committee for wildlife and environment indicated that villagers had been complaining for long that army officers were frequently hunting the wildlife but no action was being taken. But now, with substantial evidence, he stated that senior officers should look look into the matter and guarantee such incidents will not happen in the future.

Hearing about a news like this makes me feel that our motherland has been and still is a major hot-bed for poaching and other illicit activities intended to overexploit the natural environment. The threat of poaching comes in many forms. It is not just a bunch of small-time criminals, but also sophisticated ones as well, including those who have no affiliations with such syndicates whatsoever. This was seen especially in the case of Salman Khan, Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, and now officials of the nation's army. But despite their high status, we must not forget that these are also regular people and should be dealt with in the same manner as any person after committing a crime. India is one of the few places in the world with one of the richest biodiversities, but poaching and illegal wildlife trade have always been taking the toll on these natural treasures that are part of the nation's heritage. The public really needs to step up in putting an end to these ongoing atrocities. Otherwise, the entire subcontinent will lose its natural beauty in a matter of time.

View article here

Spain's Red Corals Under Pressure of Poaching

Red coral

Recently, researchers from the University of Barcelona made a shocking discovery that poaching has taken toll of nearly 60 percent of red coral biomass in Spain's Medes Islands Marine Reserve. The study's findings underline the impact of poaching has on the reserve, and has shed new light on the effect of recreational diving has on the coral population of the islands. According to the team, the reserve effect in the area has given the conservation of several marine species a boost. However, in the case of the red coral, it is both harvested legally and illegally along the Catalan coastline. Thus, poaching is posing a major threat to this species.
A necklace, a pair of earrings, and other jewelry made of red coral.

The relationship between this coral and people dates back thousands of years when ancient Greeks and Romans used it in jewelry design. The same practice still continues today. Dr. Cristina Linares of the university's Department of Ecology stated that this is a growing problem in the western Mediterranean Basin, with the exception of some marine reserves in France. From 1992 to 2005, researchers carried out a study of this coral focusing on its basal diameter and population density both inside and outside the reserve. Their results showed that colonies in the Medes area have decreased in size, with smaller numbers and below the levels observed in France. The researchers also added that the species is more abundant in the reserve than in the surrounding areas. One of the researchers, Bernat Hereu, stated that the coral is found in much shallower depths on the Catalan coast than elsewhere in the Mediterranean. This location makes the species easily accessible for both tourists and poachers.

This article gives a clear representation about how and why it is important to protect and conserve the world's coral reefs. When we think of corals, what usually comes to our minds are the remote locations in the tropics renowned for their warm climates. One of the classic examples is the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. However, there are also corals making their homes elsewhere in the world where the climate is warm and sustainable to the species. In this case, the Mediterranean. The region's sun-drenched beaches draw millions of tourists year-round. However, these waters are also home to a rich variety of marine wildlife. The red coral is one of many invertebrates making its home in the region.

Unfortunately, research conducted by this team from University of Barcelona indicates that it is in the grave danger of poaching. In addition to  research, it has been said that the team is also working with Baix Ter, Medes Islands, and Montgri National Parks to turn around the effects of poaching. This is going to be implemented through confiscation and replanting of coral. However, Dr. Linares made it clear that this will not be a definitive solution. Instead, it will be more like reviving part of the coral that is still alive and replanting it to create a natural community that is part of a marine ecosystem. I feel that this effort can be further boosted up if communities living along the coastlines should collaborate with law enforcement, and report any suspicious activities. At the same time, the locals should be imposed on the education of the importance of corals and why it is crucial to conserve them. If the corals continue to be harvested illegally, it would have an effect on other marine species and could affect the tourist industry of the Mediterranean.

View article here 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Yellowstone's Grizzly Bears to Remain on the Endangered Species List

A mother grizzly bear and her cubs in Yellowstone National Park

A federal appeals court has recently proclaimed that grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park shall remain on the endangered species list, due to the effect of climate change on the animals' white-bark food source. The decision was a major victory for conservationists in their battle to keep the bears on the list. This ruling made by the U.S 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had struck down the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service's decision in 2007 to remove the animals from the list. The court noted that climate change has increased speed of a beetle infestation that devastates the bears' vital food source of white-bark pine trees. The three-judge panel kept note of conservationists' warnings that the loss of these trees in the upper elevations in and around the national park would force the bears to search for food in more heavily populated areas. This would bring them into conflicts with local people and livestock. And it is because of this behavior that wildlife officials had to euthanize the bears in record numbers. According to a multi-agency study team, an estimated that 75 grizzly bears were either killed or removed from the wild in 2010.
A mountain pine beetle. One of the major pests in destroying the bears' vital food source.

As part of the argument, the appellate panel quoted the Fish and Wildlife Service's as having "failed to adequately consider the impact of global warming and mountain pine beetle infestation on the vitality of the region's white-bark pine trees." The jurists also discovered that warmer temperatures in recent years allowed the beetles to survive the seasonal die-off, allowing them to destroy 16 percent of the trees and damage more than 25 percent. The extent of the damage caused by the beetles is a subject of debate for the Fish and Wildlife Service, but scientists studying the problem describe the infestation in ominous terms. According to Diana Tomback, a white-bark pine expert at the University of Colorado Denver, studies have shown that majority of watersheds have in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem have been disrupted with lots of spaces where there is 90 percent-plus mortality of beetle-damaged mature trees. The beetles attack the trees by penetrating under the bark and digging out internal canals that accommodate thousands of larvae. The carving then stresses the pines, turning them into vivid red.
White-bark pine trees

This article gives a clear representation of how global warming should be taken seriously. Not only does it affect life up in the northern regions, but also further down south away from the arctic exposure. Because of this, it is crucial to battle this environmental catastrophe in virtually every corner of this world. Wildlife everywhere is affected in one way or another. In the case of grizzly bear, they are being forced to move into places where there are people leading into conflicts and ending in tragic results. In 2010, at least 75 bears were euthanized because of this behavior. Little did wildlife officials know that global warming has been pushing the animals to search for new places to forage when beetles have been destroying their major food source. I believe that since the matters concerning the bears' status as endangered species have been taken care of, it is time to tackle the problem of beetle infestation affecting Yellowstone. The first national park of the United States is in a great need of help, and so are its inhabitants. More importantly, it is time to further battle the ongoing threat of global warming.

View article here

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Experts to Discuss Disease Control for the Arabian Oryx

Arabian oryxes

It has recently been reported that a two-day workshop was organized to establish regional disease control and management for the Arabian oryx. This workshop was set up by the General Secretariat for the Conservation of the Arabian Oryx, in partnership with the Environment Agency- Abu Dhabi (EAD) and the Zoo and Aquarium Public Institution in Al Ain. Among the participants included representatives from other nations where the antelope once roamed. Together with their Gulf counterparts, they discussed carrying out studies to determine genetics and different diseases, and how they can work together to adequately respond to outbreaks. The workshop was held in Al Ain, and was attended by 38 biologists and veterinarians from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, Jordan, and Iraq.
The meeting

As of now, the Coordinating Committee for the Conservation of the Arabian Oryx (CCCAO) is overseeing the coordination of efforts in conservation for the antelope within the Arabian Peninsula. Its members have agreed to uniting and amplifying efforts of the species that once ranged from southern Syria, to Oman's and Yemen's borders with Saudi Arabia. The workshop's goal was to recognize different aspects of veterinary care required when reintroducing the oryx in its former range, and work on an annual statistics bulletin to keep track of diseases that affect the herds reintroduced that range. The participants have agreed to prepare a booklet giving description of various diseases affecting the oryx. This will focus on preventive veterinary care and how to prepare contingency plans for the management of disease outbreaks. In addition to that, the participants underlined on the importance of encouraging the range states to carry out necessary studies to identify the relationship between genetics and diseases. They also underlined on the need to aiding information exchange amongst the group of professionals involved in responding to the outbreaks.

I'm very impressed and proud to see what steps the Middle East has taken in the conservation of the Arabian oryx. This magnificent antelope has recently exceeded to a thousand individuals, thus making a comeback from the brink of extinction. Now, there have been plans to reintroduce it back into its former range where it had once disappeared. But as part of the goal, several individuals involved in the conservation have gathered together to discuss different techniques to control any diseases that can affect the antelope. I feel that it is necessary because the world cannot risk losing the animal, which slowly made a comeback thanks to captive breeding in both the Middle East and the U.S. However, the Arabian oryx's relative, the scimitar-horned oryx, is still confined to captivity. And I firmly think that captive breeding is crucial for its survival and at the same time, measures to reintroduce it back in its former range should be undertaken.

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U.N Calls for Global Cooperation to Protect Pathways of Migratory Species

African elephants on the move

The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) has recently called for the international community to boost its efforts to protect pathways and networks of different migratory species threatened by human activities. The program stated that if no immediate action is taken by, then the world will experience a loss of abundance and species of wildlife equivalent to annihilating all flora and fauna in an area the size of the U.S or China by 2050. In order to activate a response to this issue, representatives from some hundred governments met at a U.N conference in Bergen, Norway. Organized by the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), this six-day conference is putting particular focus on the significance of ecological networks as an effective key to protect a wide variety of migratory animals.
Shark populations in Palau are benefitting as a result of global cooperation.

According to Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary of CMS, global cooperation is essential to manage these large transboundary networks. The program also presented a report on how to protect migratory pathways, bringing out stories where international partnership has led to positive results. One example was seen in the island nation of Palau, where sharks have roamed for over 400 million years. However, they became endangered due to demand for their fins for soup. Fortunately, new measures were taken and not only did they help protect the species but also boost the local economy. Other successful programs included a ten-year program to conserve and restore seven million hectares of wetland in China, Iran, Kazakhstan, and Russia, which increased the possibilities of survival for the Siberian crane and improved drinking water supplies. There was even one about a transboundary enforcement measure to protect the mountain gorilla population on the borders of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda, and Uganda. But despite these success stories, the program also expressed its concern about countries that account for almost 36 percent of global land area which are not allies to the Convention. These nations pose challenges for protecting migratory species worldwide. In addition to that, illegal practices such as poaching are on the rise, especially in grasslands and savannas of Africa and Central Asia.
Event the Siberian crane has experienced a similar success.

I also firmly believe that international cooperation is vital for the survival of migratory species in this world. Just because there have been some success stories does not mean that the status of such species is safe. There are several other species living in nations that have never joined forces with the Convention. And these nations include Central Asia and Africa, which are generally considered havens for migratory species. Animals like antelopes, elephants, and rhinos are abundant in these areas. However, these animals have and still are becoming victims of poaching and other illicit activities plundering their homelands. This is why it is crucial that these countries should join forces with the UNEP, in order to ensure protection of the animals and their migratory pathways. At the same time, action should also be taken regarding the livelihoods of the local people. For example, in parts of Africa, bushmeat trade has been proving to be a lucrative yet destructive business. People maybe benefitting because of the trade, but they are also exploiting their local wildlife. That is why it is essential that more partnerships with the UNEP should be formed, in order to protect and benefit the lives of both people and animals.

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Experts Recommend Captive Breeding for Great Indian Bustards

Great Indian bustard

It has been recently reported that experts in India have suggested urgent captive breeding for the great Indian bustards. This conservation strategy involves breeding of the species in human-controlled environments with restricted settings, and releasing them into the wild when the threats to the birds have decreased. Captive breeding is one of the recommendations included in the guidelines of the "Species Recovery Program." Brought up by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF), it is not only intended for saving the bustard but also for the lesser and Bengal florican. A report that was prepared by experts from the ministry, the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), Wildlife Institute of India (WII), World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and other NGOs and individuals has been sent to the MOEF for approval.
The Bengal florican is equally threatened as its larger relative above.

According to Asad Rahmani, the director of BNHS, the idea is to accessorize the species population. This involves captive breeding of the species and later releasing them into the wild. It will be done with in-situ conservation (on-site habitat conservation). He further added that the program's guidelines advises highly regulated tourism, including total restriction in breeding areas. B.C Chaudhary, a scientist for the WII who is involved developing the guidelines, stated that captive breeding for the bustards should be done by professional organizations. This means it is not required to keep them in zoos. Chief Conservator of Forests (Pune), M.K Rao, felt that captive breeding is essential to know the birds' ecology and movement pattern. He also added that telemetry and radio tracking should be taken up, in order to know the areas they are using. Finally, Pramod Patil, the director of the GIB Foundation, stated that the recovery plan is a three-step system consisting of the national plan, state plan, and site-specific plan where local aspects of bustard conservation are considered.
So is the lesser florican.

I also believe that captive breeding is essential for the conservation of great Indian bustards. In addition to that, this technique is also required both species of floricans as their numbers are also critically low. It is estimated that there are 30-35 bustards and 20-25 lesser floricans remaining in the state of Maharashtra. Both of these birds have suffered tremendously as a result of human pressure, as their habitats are gradually shrunk to give way to agriculture and infrastructure. This is why it is necessary for India to conduct captive breeding programs across its lands, in order to revive the populations of these birds. Just educating the public about their importance is not enough to save the species. Stronger steps in rehabilitation is also crucial for the survival of the species. In addition to that, I also believe that captive breeding should be imposed on other endangered species of India, including tigers and other well-known species. Zoos should also become involved in captive breeding. This was the case with the San Diego Zoo in an effort to save the California condor and the Arabian oryx. If India's zoos follow this example, then it would further help in the conservation of its wildlife. However, it is also important to note which species to help. Animals like the bustard can only receive help from professional organizations, as said by Mr. Chaudhary. But it is equally important that zoological facilities should step in to help with the wildlife conservation of India.

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Claims of Curing AIDS Lead to Surge in Illegal Smuggling of Tokay Geckos

A Tokay gecko

It has been recently reported by a conservation group that claims of curing AIDS has resulted in a sharp increase of smuggling Tokay geckos. TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, a wildlife monitoring network, stated in a report that the demand for these geckos has surged in recent years after online blogs, newspaper articles, and wildlife traders applauded the consumption of the geckos' tongue and internal organs as a miracle cure for the HIV virus. TRAFFIC further added that, as with any other wild animal, such claims were unfounded. In addition to that, the Philippine government had warned that using geckos to treat AIDS may put patients at risk. According to TRAFFIC's regional deputy director, Chris R. Shepherd, if the trade in geckos continues to soar, then it could take years to fix the damage being caused on the current populations.
Tokay gecko in Vietnam

The report further added that, besides AIDS, geckos had long been used as traditional medicine for other illnesses such as asthma, cancer, diabetes, and skin diseases. The lizards would be dried up and then ground into powder for consumption. In some parts of Asia, they would be made into wine or whiskey to boost energy. But the trade in these lizards has even extended outside Asia and into the Western world. Between 1998 and 2002, more than eight and a half tons of dried gecko carcasses were legally imported into the United States. Huge numbers would be traded within Asia and it is believed that Malaysia is a key center to meet demand, especially in China. This has led to various seizures made during the illicit operation. An estimated 1,000 geckos believed to be bound for Malaysia were recently seized in Cambodia, along with a couple being detained for attempting to smuggle nearly $1 million worth of lizards from Thailand to Malaysia. Another recent seizure was made on the island of Java when customs officers averted a bid to smuggle dried geckos to China and Hong Kong using expired permits.
Tokay gecko in Thailand

This article gives a clear representation of how the illegal wildlife trade has reached a whole new level. Usually animals that are victims of this illicit and lucrative business are believed to treat illnesses such as common cold, measles, etc. But now, there is another malady that has come into the spotlight: AIDS. And the "ideal" candidates for treating this virus are none other than Tokay geckos. These lizards were popular as pets, but have also become part of the illegal wildlife trade like every other wild creature in Southeast Asia. Initially, these lizards were consumed due to the belief that they would cure asthma, cancer, diabetes, and skin diseases. But with this belief, combined with that of curing AIDS, populations these lizards have plunged dramatically in the hands of poachers and smugglers. These geckos, as with any small insectivorous creature, are crucial for the livelihoods of people in the region for regulating pests and maintaining the ecological balance. Without the geckos, people would be prone to attacks by mosquitoes and other hazardous pests. Chances are they would resort to pesticides, which would lead to further damage in the region. This is why it is crucial to help these geckos, and put a stop to the illegal wildlife trade.

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Illegal Caviar Trade Threatens Danube River's Sturgeons

A Russian sturgeon

A recent report issued by the international wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC has found that continuous illegal trade in caviar is weakening the survival of sturgeons in the Danube River Basin. Commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), this report revealed a total of fourteen confiscations coming from Bulgaria and Romania as reported by the EU Member States between 2000 and 2009. Both of these countries contain the only reasonable population of these fish, which outlasted the dinosaurs 200 million years ago. However, five of the six native species in the Danube River Basin are listed as critically endangered. Due to their status, fishing for them has been banned. Despite this, illegal fishing and trade in caviar continued to take the toll on their populations.
Caviar for sale in Istanbul

Although seizures of illegal caviar were reported in other EU Member States, none were reported from Bulgaria and Romania. The reason is because of the Danube's location between the two neighboring nations. Jutta Jahrl, a sturgeon expert for the WWF, stated that a ban on one side of the basin cannot have any impact on fishermen fishing for sturgeon on the other side. Bulgaria is slated to impose a five-year ban on sturgeon-fishing in 2012. According to Ivaylo Simeonov, head of fisheries monitoring at Bulgaria's National Agency of Fisheries and Aquaculture, various activities regarding the sturgeon populations will be carried out. These include restocking of fish populations and monitoring the sturgeons' status. In addition to that, an information campaign among fishing communities and better coercion of the ban are also scheduled for 2012. TRAFFIC's Katalin Kecse-Nagy, the author of the report, stated that when Bulgaria and Romania joined the European Union in 2007, it made the illegal caviar trade harder to spot and prevent. The reason for that was because caviar shipments to EU Member States were no longer recorded in the data by CITES.
Head study of the Russian sturgeon

I'm very much appalled by the fact that the threat of illegal caviar trade has been going virtually undetected since Bulgaria and Romania had joined the European Union. Even though both of these nations separately placed a ban on sturgeon-fishing, it did not seem to matter whether fishing on one side of the river can have an impact on another. This, in my opinion, has made both of these nations prone to such illicit activities and led numerous cases of caviar confiscations by other European nations. In 2009, German authorities seized smuggled caviar labeled as Bulgarian farmed caviar. But isotopic analysis revealed the caviar had come from the Caspian Sea, one of the most important sturgeon fisheries along with the Black Sea. This case gives an idea of how permitted caviar farming was imposed on to allow illegal caviar into the legal trade. Both Bulgaria and Romania had a history of being Communist states during the Cold War era, but now there is a new threat in the midst. The illegal trade in caviar has transformed the two nations into major hubs for the illegal trade of wildlife in Europe. I personally think that it is about time they put their foot down and raise awareness among enforcement agencies about this ongoing threat. At the same time, caviar consumers and traders should be educated about the trade, in order to keep them alert. This would further help in the battle against the illegal caviar trade. The Danube is crucial for the sturgeons as a feeder river and estuary, in which adults would swim upstream to spawn and is in a great need of help.

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