Sunday, February 27, 2011

NGO Activists Confronted by a Mob in Kaziranga National Park

One-horned rhinos grazing in Kaziranga National Park

The Kaziranga National Park is famous for being the home of the Indian one-horned rhinoceros. This majestic and almost mythical creature is the prime attraction for the tourist industry, but also a target for poachers. The national park has seen its losses of rhinos over the years, but its forest guards have always fought back in protecting these highly endangered species. In order to prevent further incursion of poaching in the park, authorities had been considering to limit the flow of tourism in the park as a way to protect the local wildlife. This seemed like a bright idea, but it did not sit well with organizations associated with tourism who feared that the plan would impact the industry.

Just recently, a mob led by members of the Kaziranga Jeep Safari Association accosted a group of NGO (non-governmental organization) activists and threatened them to leave the park. This was not the first incident. A month ago, the association along with some local organizations issued the warning to NGOs involved in Kaziranga's tiger census. The team that was encountered yesterday consisted of two members of the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) and two scientists from the Wildlife Institute of India. According to Jayanta Pathak of Aaranyak, an NGO involved in the tiger census, the group was returning from the park when the mob confronted them at Kohora. Although Aaranyak had recently appealed to the authorities not to impose a total ban on tourist movement in Kaziranga, the action did not give much satisfaction to the park's tourism organizations. Punen Gogoi, president of the Jeep Safari Association, stated that WWF and Aaranyak had not taken local people into confidence.

I'm extremely surprised to see that all the organizations linked with tourism in Kaziranga would threaten those people who are actively trying to protect one of the park's endangered species. The rhino may be the prime attraction, but the sanctuary also houses the tiger which also happens to be one of India's iconic animals. These people (Kaziranga Jeep Safari Association) should understand that rhinos and other local wildlife have been suffering from poaching, and should be treated as living treasures of Kaziranga. By not allowing NGO activists and conservationists to carry out any sort of census would be like giving the poachers a better chance at diminishing the wildlife. In my opinion, the impact of poaching is what affects India's tourist industry. The nation is one of the few places in this world that houses a rich diversity of wildlife than anywhere else. Over the years, the wildlife has been vulnerable from the impending threat of poaching. But now, I feel that in order to help protect the wildlife, there should be limitations in the flow of tourism as this would also be considered a disturbance to the nation's wild places. Besides, there are plenty of other unique and interesting attractions like the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort. Also, with the threat of poaching, sometimes there may be a chance of innocent tourists getting captured or even killed by poachers. This is why it is important that census of India's local wildlife should be carried out, in order to ensure how well it is doing. That way, tourists would know whether it is worth visiting a particular national park.

View article here       

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Study- Electrocution May Be Behind India's Dwindling Vulture Population

Indian white-rumped vulture

Vultures may be viewed as dirty and unclean by some, but they play a major role in disposing of the dead and the diseased. Without these special birds, it would be easy to say that our lives would be helpless. The birds are also remarkably adaptable, which means they can be found circling above towns and cities looking out for anything that is dead and on the verge of rotting. But in India, it is a different story. In the past years, the vulture population has declined heavily due to multiple reasons. They include food shortage and diclofenac poisoning, which occurs when the birds devour the flesh of domestic livestock that has been contaminated with this chemical.

However, researchers from the Ela Foundation and the National Institute of Virology (NIV) have recently stated that electrocution may also be the factor behind the vultures' downfall. Their research was based on the behavioral and virological studies conducted on an Indian white-rumped vulture which was found dead in an open field at Bhangaon village in Shrigonda taluka. According to Shailesh Pawar of NIV, samples tested but showed no evidence of blood parasites or infection like malaria or Avian influenza viruses. This indicated that the bird was healthy, but was fatally electrocuted from electricity wires in Parner sixty kilometers from the point of release. Satish Pande, an ornithologist for the Ela Foundation, has been investigating the vulture population all his life and also agrees that electrocution is one of the factors to the vultures' demise. He even says that, in addition to diclofenac, vultures have also died as a result of consuming pesticides such as organochlorine and organophosphorus which prevent the carcass from decomposing. He also added that diclofenac was first thought to cause thanatosis, but this unusual behavior trait is actually a survival tactic to fake death when approached by intruders.

In my opinion, this article gives a clear idea of how urbanization has contributed to the downfall of India's vultures. Although these birds are adapted for life in the suburbs, the increase in urban development has limited their chances of survival. Electricity wires are one of the factors in this rapid increase, where they would be set up high at a certain altitude which vultures occupy when flying. As a result, they end up flying into these wires and perish. According to Mr. Pande, one possible solution would be to identify areas that have vulture population. These include pockets in Konkan, Marathwada, and Rajasthan. And where there are vultures, urban development should be strictly prohibited. Otherwise, India would risk losing more birds.

View article here        

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Gujarat High Court Orders to Stop Mining Activities Within National Parks

An Asiatic lion in its natural habitat

The Gujarat High Court has recently ordered the state government to stop mining activities within one kilometer of all 34 national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and conservation reserves. According to the court, the order is applicable even if mining is being operated by companies with a no-objection certificate. The court further directed the government to file an action-taken report, which is to be drawn up by the state department of forests and environment, by the 24th of February. The government was also asked by Justice R.R Tripathi to form a high-power committee consisting of principal secretaries of industries and mines department, forests and environment department, and revenue department. This issue came out during a hearing on a petition filed by Param Udhyog, which demanded permission for mining. The high court caught wind of a government resolution passed on April 8 2008, stating that mining activities would be permitted even in the five-kilometer zone from a national park boundary which is prohibited. However, an advocate for the petitioner named Amit Panchal made it clear that the resolution was contradicting the Supreme Court's 2006 orders. In response, the state government promised the high court that it would disallow any mining or industrial activity within the one kilometer zone of any national park. Following this assurance, the high court demanded the government to prohibit all mining activities across Gujarat.

I'm very proud of the Gujarat High Court in conveying this message to the state government. The state, like India itself, is home to a rich variety of wildlife. Some of which found nowhere else in India. These animals like the Indian onager, which thrives in the hot arid region of Kutch. The lion at one time ruled over much of western and central India, but now its kingdom is limited in the Saurashtra region. However, the problem with the region is that it is prone to limestone mining especially near the boundary of Gir Forest. I sure hope that after what the high court said, the state government will take its word and put into action. Furthermore, the Narayan Sarovar Wildlife Sanctuary has been the target of mining due to huge deposits of limestone, lignite, bentonite, and bauxite. Yet this sanctuary is a haven to Gujarat's chinkara (Indian gazelle) population. If the mining industry prevails, then the chinkara will lose its home and so will the remaining wildlife. As of now, I'm happy that the high court made it clear that mining activities would not be allowed in the future. However, I also feel that there are other places in India rich with mineral deposits but also happen to house national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. I hope that governments in those states would hopefully, if possible, follow Gujarat's government in protecting their local wildlife from mining and other industrial activities.

View article here          

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Simlipal National Park to Tighten Its Security Against Poaching

An Indian elephant in Simlipal National Park

The Simlipal National Park of Orissa is considered to be one of the most important wildlife sanctuaries in India. It was one of the first national parks to be placed under Project Tiger in 1973. Its very name derives from the abundance of red cotton silk trees, which contribute to its vivid beauty. But in recent times, the park's beauty has been deeply disturbed by a massive onslaught of poaching which is taking toll on its elephant population. Only recently, four elephants (three females and one male) were killed. But what was even shocking was that forest officials unsuccessfully tried to underplay the slaughter. According to enquiries, the officials sawed off the male's tusks to make it look as if all four were females who had died either by natural causes or poison used in agricultural fields.

This brazen killing was one of many that have taken Simlipal by storm. Last year, nearly a dozen elephants were brutally massacred as confirmed by a two-member expert team sent by the Ministry of Environment and Forests. That same year, in June 2010, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) had notified the constitution of a seven-member committee to closely monitor the Simlipal's functioning. One of the people present, Biswajit Mohanty, initially stated that the state government was responsible for the mass killings of elephants. He wrote in a letter to Minister Jairam Ramesh demanding the revival of the committee. However, he was later informed that the state government had not approved of the committee. In addition to that, Simlipal's chief wildlife warden P.N Padhy expressed his shock over this brutal killing and stated that strong action will be taken. This includes protection measures, internal vigilance, and streamlining of staff. He further added that the park's staff has received help from local people in recruiting 465 youths to guard 85 camps and 127 eco-development committees.

Although I'm glad to see that Simlipal National Park is receiving help from the local people in terms of wildlife protection, I'm worried whether the staff will be prepared to face against an attack by the Maoist rebels. Two years ago, the rebels had destroyed the park's infrastructure which forced the authorities to shut it down for tourism. During those raids, the staff refrained from patrolling the forests for fearing the rebels would kill them. Because of this fear, poachers and wildlife smugglers were able to benefit in massacring a large scale of endangered wildlife including tigers and elephants. There is also a similar situation in the Palamau Tiger Reserve in the state of Jharkhand. Forest rangers have stated that the poachers regularly threaten them against complaining the authorities. I personally feel that Orissa, Jharkhand, and other states affected by the threat of Maoist rebels should team up together with the Indian government in a battle against this terrorist organization. Not only have its members been responsible for deaths of thousands of people in such states, but also benefited the poachers so that they can pillage and plunder the local protected forest areas however they wanted and whenever they pleased. This is why I believe it is necessary to take drastic measures against this violent organization before it makes another move.

View article here 

Monday, February 14, 2011

India's Growing Tiger Population Leading to Rise in Man-Tiger Conflicts

A tiger in Ranthambore National Park

In India, the tiger is the undisputed heavyweight champion of all powerful predators. Its immense size, strength, and beauty have made it a perfectly designed killing machine all over the subcontinent. Since 1973, the tiger has been India's national animal after the lion. However, being an apex predator is never easy. The tiger has since and still is being illegally hunted for its skin, bones, and other body parts which some people believe contain supernatural powers to cure various illnesses. In addition to that, it has faced persecution for preying on domestic livestock and even people. However, in spite of these life-threatening situations, the tiger has been protected. But conservation efforts to protect this almighty ruler of India seems to be facing an uncertain future. In places like the Corbett National Park, experts suggested that the success in tiger management and keeping watch for poaching have contributed to the increase in the animals' population which in turn led to rise in man-tiger conflicts. Other experts such as Belinda Wright of the Wildlife Protection Society of India stated that poaching of prey populations and increased human interference are the primary causes for the increase of such situations. In addition to that, the tigers' habitat has either shrunk or remained stagnant during these four years. According to one forest official, ten new hotels and resorts had been in Corbett's buffer zone in the last few years.

Another national park that has witnessed an increase in man-tiger conflicts is Ranthambore in Rajasthan, where three people had been killed and another dozen injured in the past year. But conflicts were not the only problem. The increase in tiger population has also led to four tigers migrating outside the park. Dharmendra Kandhal, a Ranthambore-based wildlife biologist, stated that constant habitat destruction and illegal mining is causing stress to the local wildlife. Another similar situation was witnessed by the Uttarakhand forest department, in which 36 tigers were spotted in two ranges divided by the Kosi River and joined by a corridor where resorts and the Sunderkhal village have come up. In January 2011, a villager named Dhonia Devi had lost her niece Devika to a tiger attack in that particular location. Such conflicts are unique, as tigers tend to be territorial animals. P.K Sen, a former director of Project Tiger, stated that a typical tiger territory covers an area of ten square kilometers. Most of these territories are occupied by stronger tigers. As the population grows, the weaker individuals spread into buffer areas which are prone to either human settlements or the tourist industry thus resulting in a conflict. At a national level, the core tiger area has shrunk from over one lakh in the 1970s to 31,207 square kilometers in 37 tiger reserves. This means that tiger reserves such as Bandhavgarh, Corbett, Kaziranga, and Ranthambore may have reached their limit with increase in their tiger populations and some check on poaching.

I have a deep feeling that a great deal attention should be focused on managing India's tiger population in which both people and tigers will be kept safe from each other. One possible solution mentioned in this article is relocation of those tigers who venture outside the parks' boundaries. An example of this particular solution was seen Kaziranga where a man-eating tiger was successfully rehabilitated to Manas National Park. But I also feel that the staff of those national parks experiencing the rise in their tiger populations should reconsider their plans of establishing hotel resorts. That is, they should not build more buildings in the buffer areas which could lead to further conflicts between tigers people. In fact, I strongly believe that the Corbett National Park staff should have the resorts standing in the buffer zone demolished if they are to prevent any more of these dangerous encounters. In addition to that, villagers living within these zones should somehow be encouraged to move to a safe place if they happen to find themselves in a vulnerable spot. The villagers of the Sunderkhal village have been willing to abandon their village since 1974, provided they receive fair compensation. Furthermore, habitat destruction and illegal mining should be heavily monitored along with poaching. As of now, the National Tiger Conservation Authority and the Wildlife Institute of India have identified fifteen new forest areas across India that could provide home to tigers living in stress. These areas and the tiger issues will be discussed by international experts on the 7th of March in Delhi. I sure hope that during that meeting, some solution(s) will come up regarding India's current tiger population.

View article here

Concern Over Increasing Peacock Deaths in Pakistan's Thar Region

A peacock pair

The peacock is reputed to be one of the most beautiful birds in the world. The male's tail is a train of dazzling colors, symbolizing grace and beauty. The bird has always been a subject of arts worldwide, but it is in India where it has been given a more prestigious status. The peacock has played a major role in the Hindu mythology, in which it served as a vahana to war god Kartikeya and is often depicted with Saraswati, the goddess of learning and arts. With such popularity, it is no wonder that the peacock is India's national bird. When visiting the Indian subcontinent, one would see a peacock anywhere; including towns, country villages, and even public parks. However, one particular region of the mighty Thar Desert located in Pakistan's Sindh Province has a different story. There, the recent deaths of two peacocks has raised concern among wildlife conservationists. The reports were sent to Bharumal Amrani, an official for the Society of Conservation and Protection of Environment (SCOPE), who feared that more than hundred of these birds might have died in the neighborhoods of Mithi, Islamkot, and Nagarparkar. Although he is unsure about the places and the exact number of birds that died, Mr. Amrani stated that other SCOPE officials had lodged complaints to the Sindh Wildlife Department. Unfortunately for them, the department's officials denied the issue.

Another person who is looking into this issue is Arbab Nek Mohammad, who is also supervising a project with the UNDP Global Environment Facility's Small Grants Program to conserve the Thar Desert's peacock population. The information collected by their organizational network showed that at least 500 birds have died so far. According to Mr. Mohammad, the possible reasons for their demise were the lack of feeding, especially grains, in their habitat and the biting cold in the area. He further added that he and the program has developed hundred points for the birds in the region from the Sanghar to Tharparkar Districts, in order to protect them. But, since the authorities have not taken any action, he fears that the remaining birds might not survive. In addition to that, conservationists say that there could be several other possibilities for the birds' deaths. One theory is that the villagers used to fill water in their pots, which attracted the birds in order to quench their thirst. However, due to displacement of communities, drought in some areas may have contributed to their mortality. Another theory states that pesticides may be main cause.

This issue, in my opinion, is a major problem in Pakistan. I'm also very much surprised and shocked to see that the Sindh Wildlife Department had turned a deaf ear towards this issue. If there is a problem concerning the local wildlife in the region, then the department is supposed to play its role in the matter. I feel that an issue like this should be thoroughly investigated, in order to find out the cause(s) for the deaths of these magnificent birds. And that means a full collaboration with conservationists, who are looking into this issue and the Sindh Wildlife Department. Also, it would also be helpful if the villagers help out as well. The villagers in the Tharparkar Districts are said to be conservationists, which would make it useful for the authorities to tackle the problem. In addition to that, I also feel that it is helpful that other villagers be educated about the ecological importance of having peacocks around their villages. In addition to feeding on insects, the birds are also famous for taking on venomous snakes which the people fear. Without the peacock, how will the Thar ecosystem be kept in balance?

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Local Community Groups in Nepal Help Take on Rhino Poachers

Victim of poaching: An Indian one-horned rhino

The Chitwan National Park is one of the most prime attractions in Nepal. It is home to a rich variety of wildlife found nowhere else in the world, except in the Indian subcontinent. Among the flagship species present are tigers and rhinos. However, like any other wild place in the subcontinent, Chitwan National Park is prone to illegal poaching. Tigers, rhinos, and other rare and unique creatures have always been on top of the poachers' hit list, but the animals were once victims of a decade-long civil war which was fought between the government of Nepal and a Maoist insurgency. During that time, poaching of rhinos went unchecked as the army abandoned their posts, opening a window of opportunity for poachers. When the conflict ceased in 2006, the soldiers returned to their posts and the rhino population began to slowly and slowly recover. Conservations stated that the main cause for recovery were local community groups set up to protect the park's wildlife. Thanks to encouragement from the WWF and park authorities, the groups were formed in the park's "buffer zone", which was a 750-square kilometer area where elephants, tigers, and rhinos would often stray into. Many consist of local people hired by traders in Kathmandu, who campaign door-to-door, in schools, and perform educational dramas and songs about the impact of poaching. In addition to that, they are also helping out the park's staff and soldiers who patrol the grounds for poachers. That is, they provide them with information about the poachers' whereabouts.

I'm very happy and proud to see what the local communities in Nepal have been doing, in order to protect their wildlife. Thanks to their efforts, the numbers of the one-horned rhino has increased from 372 in 2005 to 408 in 2008. But what really impresses me is that these people are collaborating with Chitwan National Park's authorities, in order to help them capture the poachers. The reason is, according to park's warden Narendra Man Pradhan, the national park covers 932 square kilometers of grassland which makes it impossible for authorities to prevent poaching. I also feel that the community groups can further help out is by raising awareness about the impact of the invasive Mimosa plant. Although this plant does not affect the rhinos, it does take over the native plant populations, which forces the animals to wander outside the park in search for food. This brings them into conflict with other people. This is why I feel that Nepal's community groups should also consider helping in weeding out these invasive plants, so that rhinos and other animals do not end up in any would-be confrontation with the locals.

The same story is in Orang National Park in the state of Assam in India. Rhinos have been straying outside the park's boundaries, due to the impact of the Mimosa. I feel that if locals follow their Nepalese neighbors' example, they will help both the rhinos and other wild animals. Furthermore, just as Nepal was once a place of civil conflict, India's northeastern region has for long been a hot-bed of political instability. And it is because of this instability that poachers see an opportunity to do decimate the wildlife. I personally feel that the people up there should somehow form a truce, and focus their attention on protecting and preserving the national parks just like the people in Nepal have been doing since the civil war's end.

View article here           

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Assamese Militants Release Three World Wildlife Fund-India Volunteers

Entrance to Manas National Park

Earlier this week, a group of six WWF-India officials were carrying out a survey of elephants and tigers in Assam's Manas National Park, when they were suddenly ambushed and abducted by a group of masked and heavily armed militants. The captors of these six volunteers were members of a militant group called the National Democratic Front of Bodoland. According to the South Asia Terrorist Portal, the front's main objective was to have an independent state of Bodoland in areas north of the Brahmaputra River. The hostages were identified to be Saiyad Naushad Jaman, Pranjit Kumar Saikia, Tarali Goswami, Gautam Kishore Sharma, Srabana Goswami, and Pallabi Chakraborty. Out of the six, three of them were released (mostly women); the remaining are still being held captive. The WWF-India stated that it is currently working closely with government authorities and the Bodoland Territorial Council for a speedy release of the remaining hostages.

I'm extremely shocked to see that something like this could happen. These people were a group of wildlife officials who were carrying out a survey, in order to help their nation's wildlife flourish but ended up being captured by a band of hostile militants. Even though only three out of the six hostages were released, it does not mean the tension is receded. There are still three more remaining in custody. I can only hope and pray that they will be safely released. The abduction of these innocent volunteers refers back to the late 1980s and the early 1990s when Manas National Park's infrastructure suffered a great damage, followed by a political instability which drastically reduced the park's rhino population by fifty percent and the tiger population by thirty percent. I just hope that WWF-India, along with authorities and the Bodoland Territorial Council will take whatever measures in order to prevent any further instability. This is because Manas National Park was named a World Heritage Site in 1985 by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. The park had suffered dramatically many years ago, and it should not end up in a similar situation again.

View article here

Invasive Plant Species Forces Rhinos Outside Orang National Park

One-horned rhinos

The state of Assam in India is home to the famed Kaziranga National Park. This vast stretch of lush and evergreen grasslands make an ideal habitat for the Indian one-horned rhinoceros. There is also another national park which offers the same type of habitat: the Orang National Park. This national park, like Kaziranga, may seem lush and green at first glance but it has a dark secret. The Orang National Park has been under threat by an invasive plant species known as the Mimosa. It was first imported by tea planters from East Asia during the 1960s to be used as a nitrogen fixer prior to planting tea. However, this plant is infamous for colonizing over native plant species by scrambling vigorously over them and forming dense tangled thickets up to two meters high. Due to the impact of this alien species, the alluvial grasslands, which are ideal rhino habitats, had shrunk by 10.09 square kilometers from 1987 to 2008. This has forced Orang's rhinos to stray outside the park, where they risk getting into conflicts with people. Recently, a park ranger named Samir Ahmed was injured after a rhino strayed outside and crossed the Brahmaputra River into Nagaon and Morigaon districts. A study was carried out by Pranjit Kumar Sarma, a GIS expert, who recommended immediate uprooting of the plant for rhino conservation. In addition to that, Mr. Sarma further added that another factor contributing to the fluctuation of rhino habitat is silt deposition from the Brahmaputra. He had called for serious measures to prevent grazing of cattle and encroachment in the park.

This article, in my opinion, very much coincides with the one in which the Chitwan National Park in Nepal is under threat from this plant species. It also gives a clear idea of why it is extremely important to take serious measures in preventing further colonization, in order to conserve the rhino habitat in Orang. And I frankly believe that uprooting is the best solution. However, in order to put this part of plan into action, it would help to reach out to the community, educate them about the dangers of Mimosa, and persuade them to help with the uprooting. If the people do not help out, then they will risk serious injury or even death by rhinos. In order to fix the silt deposition, I feel it is also important to persuade the locals to first prevent their cattle from grazing into the grasslands in order to carry out ground surveys. This way, it will allow wildlife managers to burn grasslands systematically.

View article here

Monday, February 7, 2011

Pakistani Environmentalists Call For a Fishing Ban in River Dolphin Reserve Area

Indus River Dolphin

Pakistani environmentalists and experts had recently met to review deaths of Indus River dolphins during which they have called to impose a complete ban on fishing in the river's dolphin reserve area. The consensus was brought up at a WWF Pakistan meeting in Sukkur at the Indus River Dolphin Conservation Center to investigate the recent deaths of these rare mammals. Last month, five dead dolphins were found of which four were found at the village of Ali Wahan along river's banks near Rohri. Three of them were females. Two were buried, while three had undergone a postmortem by WWF Pakistan conservationists Muhammad Imran, Liaqat Ali Khokhar, cetacean expert Francois Xavier Pelletier, and even Sindh Wildlife Department employees. During the postmortem, samples were collected for poison testing. After a thorough analysis of circumstantial evidence, it was found that the cause of the dolphins' deaths was from either net entanglement or chemical poisoning. A report will be issued after samples taken from the dolphins are analyzed. According to Uzma Noureen, project coordinator for the Indus River Dolphin Conservation Project (IRDCP), once the samples are analyzed, an agenda against the use of such poisonous substance will be underway. She further added that a dolphin was rescued in the Nara Canal before the mortality cases were issued. District Officer Ghulam Mustafa Gopang of the Sindh Fisheries Department expressed his concern over the fishing system, and stated that it needed to be either replaced or improved. Taj Muhammad Sheikh, the wildlife department's deputy conservator, insisted to place a ban on fishing in the reserve area for dolphins. Finally, assistant engineer Abdul Sattar Saryo of the Irrigation Department stated that the department will provide any support to monitor barrage gates, canals, and wherever to find any distressed or stranded dolphins.

While I'm impressed to see that Pakistan is becoming aware regarding its river dolphin population status, I also feel that serious action should be taken. This rare dolphin's habitat has shrunk to one fifth of its historical range, and is gradually diminishing as a result of water shortage, uncontrolled use of agrochemicals around the river, and discharging of untreated wastewater effluents. It has also been found that it has become a victim of illegal netting and chemical poisoning that fishermen use to maximize their catch. This, along with its relatives the Ganges and Amazon River dolphins, are famous for being indicators of freshwater. That is, wherever they are found, other aquatic species of animals also live there. If these animals disappear, then so will other water-dwelling animals. This is why I firmly believe that serious measures should be taken, in order to revive their populations. One way would be to reach out and influence the public, in order to raise awareness regarding the dolphins' population status. Furthermore, educating people, especially fishermen, about the ecological importance of these creatures should be considered, as well. This way, the river dolphins will once again be able to swim different areas of their native rivers as their ancestors did generations back.

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India's Environment Ministry Approves Ropeway Construction in Gir Forest

An Asiatic lioness in Gir Forest

The Indian Environment Ministry has recently given clearance for the construction of a ropeway in Gujarat's Gir Forest National Park, despite objections that it could lead to the downfall of the local vulture population. According to Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, he had heard several reasons for opposing the construction and supporting it and believed that it would minimize any man-animal conflict in Gir Forest. He further added that the ropeway would provide a convenient way of transporting thousands of pilgrims on their daily visit to a holy spot on Mount Girnar. This major project has been pending since 1995, and the clearance was first sought by the environment ministry in 2008 after the Girnar forest reserves was declared a wildlife sanctuary. Environmentalists insist that the project would have a major impact on the vultures who roost on the mountain crannies. According to Minister Ramesh, the standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) will make a final decision based on a report sent by the Gujarat government. The NBWL had initially advised against the construction of the ropeway, saying it could lead to the extinction of the vultures after its visit last year.

I personally feel that the construction of this ropeway will have a major impact on the local vulture population. These huge birds are in critical numbers all over India as a result of diclofenac, and other harmful factors. One of them, in this case, is habitat destruction. In my opinion, the best idea would be to give up this project since it happens to cut right through a wildlife sanctuary. If this construction prevails, then all the animals making their home in the sanctuary would be greatly affected in some form even though it would minimize any risk of man-animal conflict. I think it would be best to come up with a harmless alternative, which would not only affect the wildlife but also help pilgrims safely go to Mount Girnar without running into any fatal conflict with a wild animal like a lion or a leopard.

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Ford Motor Company Awards Two U.A.E Conservation Projects

Ford Motor Company Logo

The Ford Motor Company Conservation and Environmental Grants had recently awarded two U.A.E-based projects aimed at preserving the nation's coral reefs, and combating the illegal wildlife trade in the region. The two recipients were the Emirates Diving Association, with its project titled Reef Check, which received $9,000 to fund training programs for volunteers and the data collection during reef surveys in Al Aqqa, Rul Dibba, and Al Faqeet around the nation's eastern coast. The Reef Check project has been known to collect scientific data for the conservation of U.A.E's marine environment, and even provide volunteers with information in simpler terms to understand the status of coral reefs and their main threats. It is also hoped that with a project like this will have increased awareness on the reefs' state and the need to conserve them. Another major problem affecting the nation is the illegal wildlife trade. The region has been prone to rampant exporting of shark fins from Yemen to other parts of Asia, due to lack of awareness. This is why the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) stepped in with a project titled Reducing Illegal Wildlife Trade in the Middle East intended on engaging participants from environment, fisheries, and customs agencies in a shark protection workshop. Like Reef Check, IFAW also aims to increase the knowledge level of the species and the awareness of conservation threats.

I'm very proud and happy to see what these projects are doing, regarding the U.A.E's natural environment protection. But it is also interesting to see how a major motor company like Ford is involved in the field of conservation. In this case, it is in the Middle East. Since its launch in 2000, the Ford Motor Company Conservation and Environment Grants has offered $1.1 million in grants to over 130 environmental projects in the region. In the Middle East, the program has been supported by various governmental and non-governmental authorities such as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Emirates Wildlife Society, the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED), and recently, UNESCO Doha. In addition to Middle East, it has awarded more than $2,000,000 in grants to over 300 high-quality projects in Asia-Pacific, the Caribbean, Central America, and Puerto Rico.

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International South Asian Wildlife Enforcement Network Established

Left to Right: Mr. S.P Yadav of National Tiger Conservation Authority; Dr. Lyonpo Pema Gyamtsho of Agriculture and Forests, Bhutan; Mr. Samir Sinha of TRAFFIC India

Last week, eight South Asian countries met in Paro, Bhutan where they came to an international agreement in order to help curb the illegal wildlife trade and enforce the protection of rare and endangered species. They established the South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN). This network's main goal is to coordinate efforts to battle poaching and trafficking of threatened species in countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The idea for this network was first proposed by South Asian environment ministers in 2008, in which eight countries had promised to boost regional cooperation in combating the wildlife trade and trafficking of bio resources, as well as wildlife conservation. The network was officially launched from 29th-30th of January. Due to the vulnerability of South Asia's biodiversity, SAWEN says it is focused on countering threats ranging from rampant poaching to the exploitation of animal parts in medicines, ornaments, and jewelry. At a recent meeting, experts from the eight member countries, the Convention of the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and TRAFFIC agreed on an action-orientated plan.

I'm very happy and proud to hear this news. With the establishment of SAWEN, the biodiversity of South Asia will have a bright future. That is, there will be a less chance for poachers and other operators of the wildlife trade to make further exploitations in the region. I'm also very proud to see that this network has received rave reviews from environment organizations. For example, Mr. Samir Sinha of TRAFFIC India has referred to the network as "a milestone" and CITES stated that it is "delighted" over its creation. I have a very good feeling that poachers and other environmental criminals will not stand a chance against the operators of this international wildlife enforcement network. However, I also feel that cooperation from ordinary people is also essential. That is, they should never buy products of endangered species and should educate one another about the dangers of the wildlife trade. This idea combined with wildlife enforcement would be a sure way to save the South Asian biodiversity.

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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Conservation Groups Call For a Stop to Yellowstone Bison Slaughter

An American bison pair

Recently, conservation groups had received news about bison migrating up north into Montana from the famed Yellowstone National Park. But what hurt them was the idea to slaughter these shaggy beasts if they happen to wonder outside the park's boundaries. They have asked a Montana federal judge to put a stop to this impending slaughter. As of now, a request for a restraining order will prevent the National Park Service from transporting those animals to slaughter which test positive for brucellosis exposure. Also, officials are trying to figure out why hundreds of bison are moving up to private land outside Yellowstone. According to the park's spokesperson, Al Nash, the migration is a result of an unusually high snowpack in the park. Because of these conditions, hundreds of animals were forced to search for food on drier land.

This mass migration has raised concerns among locals, fearing the bison could spread brucellosis to cattle on private land. To prevent this problem, many were captured and are currently being held in a facility awaiting test results. It is said that those that test seropositive for the disease exposure will be taken to slaughter. However, wildlife advocates are appealing for the animals to be spared. One of the people in the front lines is Mark Pearson of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He stated that it is not the bisons' fault for migrating. It is simply their natural movement to shift from higher elevations to lower elevations, where there is less snow. In addition to that, there has not been a documented case of a wild bison transmitting the disease to a domestic cow.

I find that is amazing what the conservation groups did, regarding the lives of the bison as they attempted to migrate beyond Yellowstone's borders up north. The snowfall during these past months in the national park has forced the animals in search of drier land for a fresh graze. And it turns out to be in Montana's private land. I also agree with the idea of preventing the spread of brucellosis from bison to cattle. I think one possible solution to prevent this problem would be to first locate and study the bisons' migratory route, and see whether it cuts through any grazing land intended for cattle. If it does, then it would help to persuade the cattle owners to relocate their animals to other lands uninhabited or used by bison. Because even though the cattle would be at risk of brucellosis, the bison will also be prone to transmission of some disease from their domestic cousins.

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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

San Francisco Bird Sanctuary to Focus On Effort to Save Rare Birds

Michele Raffin with one of Pandemonium Aviaries' birds

All around the world, birds have captured our imaginations for generations. They all come in different shapes, sizes, and colors. But it is this beauty which has made many victims of the exotic pet trade. This lucrative business has deprived several species of their natural habitats, and into people's houses. Some species, such as the hyacinth macaw, have even been pushed to the brink of extinction. In order revive such populations, captive-breeding efforts were made. However, when most people think of captive-breeding, zoos come to mind. However, there is a small but growing movement of aviculturists who breed rare birds for conservation purposes. One of these people is based in San Francisco. Her name is Michele Raffin, and she is in the front lines of breeders who believe that such birds will die both in captivity and in the wild if not bred for conservation purposes. Ms. Raffin operates a facility known as Pandemonium Aviaries, which surprisingly happens to be her home! It consists of more than fifty enclosures varying in size from half a bathroom, to a small house. There are several hundred birds across 39 species, and they are all fed a special diet consisting primarily of fruits and vegetables bought from organic markets. In addition to that, Ms. Raffin also has a team of volunteers who help out by documenting every aspect of the birds' behavior. But what really makes Ms. Raffin's facility unique is its goal, which is to establish healthy captive populations that could someday be reintroduced into the wild.

As a resident of Bay Area, I'm very proud to see what commitments and goals Ms. Raffin has regarding the global bird population. Unlike other aviculturists, her mission is to breed rare birds for conservation purposes and that is something we all need in order allow our feathery friends to fly free. I feel that Ms. Raffin is a perfect inspiration for anyone, who wants to help out in saving and protecting various rare species of birds. I also feel that other bird breeders should follow her example, in order to help save the world's bird population. Many of these animals have been threatened by deforestation, poaching, and the exotic pet trade. Some even play key roles in their native ecosystems. Without them, different terrestrial biomes would be badly affected. I sure hope that Ms. Raffin will one day achieve her goal in reintroducing a healthy population(s) of birds in their natural habitats.

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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

DNA Sample Kits to Be Used in Battle Against Rhino Poaching

Northern white rhinoceros

Africa has lately seen one of the most saddening and ruthless moments in its wildlife. The rhino population has fallen drastically in South Africa, due to rampant poaching and the thriving illegal wildlife trade. But now, it appears that there may be a light of hope for these magnificent creatures. A DNA sample kit is expected to help prosecutors, and anyone in the line of defense to save the rhinos from further poaching. The purpose of this kit is to carry out tests to see if they positively link a rhino horn to a specific rhino carcass. That way, authorities will easily be able catch up with suspects on charges of illegally hunting a rhino as well as possession of its horn. According to Johan Kruger, national head of the organized crime component in the office of National Director of Public Prosecutions, the DNA evidence can now be used to connect suspects in possession of horns with the actual carcass regardless of how much time has passed.

David Mabunda, chief executive of South African National Parks (SANParks), stated that the kit will also help rhino owners and managers to document individual rhinos in their care. He further added that the information gathered from DNA samples would be stored on a central database accessible only for registered professionals. Although a single sample would cost 1,680 rands, Mr. Mabunda said the initial tests and registration will be done free of charge. This DNA kit was developed by the department of genetics in Onderstepoort in partnership with SANParks, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), and the South African Police. It was then showed to members of the National Wildlife Crime Reaction Unit from SANParks, the South African Police, and the NPA who had recently attended a course on crime scene management. Mr. Mabunda also added that SANParks and private funders were funding for the project. Among contributors included South African Breweries, who had already sponsored 100,000 rands.

I have a feeling of hope that authorities in South Africa are now stepping up in this ongoing battle against rhino poaching. During this bloodthirsty process, poachers have been using sophisticated technology to target wild rhinos and making off with their prized possessions. But now, it appears that the authorities are on the verge of getting the upper hand in the battle almost like fighting fire with fire. The technology, in this case, is a project of issuing DNA sample kits in order to apprehend these sadistic poachers. However, South Africa's northern neighbor, Zimbabwe, has also been badly affected by rhino poaching. I sure hope that authorities up there would be issued with these kits as a step in combating this ongoing crisis.

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