Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Vietnam Fails to Save its Last Wild Javan Rhinoceros from Extinction

One of Vietnam's last two remaining Javan rhinos captured on film in Cat Tien National Park

It has been recently reported by a conservation group that Vietnam has just lost its last wild Javan rhinoceros. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) stated that there have been no sightings of this rare and critically endangered rhino species in the nation's Cat Tien National Park. There has also been no evidence of its existence from footprints or dung since the last known animal was found dead last April. In 2004, genetic analyses of rhino dung indicated that there were at least two animals in the park. This, in turn, raised hopes that Vietnam's Javan rhinoceros population might survive. However, such great expectations were not met. In addition to that, only forty to sixty of these rhinos remain in Indonesia's Ujong Kulon National Park. Christy Williams, coordinator of WWF's Asian Elephant and Rhino Program, the Vietnamese government has not given wildlife protection a top priority. According to the park's director, Tran Van Thanh, it is difficult for the staff to halt an estimated 100,000 people living on the park's fringes from hunting wild animals.
The skeleton of Vietnam's last official Javan rhinoceros

I'm deeply saddened by this loss Vietnam has suffered since last year. But at the same time, I'm absolutely disgusted by the fact that the nation's government has not seriously taken the threat of poaching and the illegal wildlife trade seriously. Vietnam and its neighbors had once suffered drastically during the Vietnam War, which not only took heavy tolls on the people but wildlife as well. After the war ceased, a new threat of terror started brewing on Vietnam's soil: poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. Despite the efforts in slowing down this ongoing threat, such illicit activities continued to devastate the flora and fauna of Vietnam. And it all came down to this horrific yet tragic news. Although Vietnam has lost its last rhino, the remaining are on the island of Java in Indonesia. But there, the numbers are critically low and not far from the brink of extinction. I personally believe that this loss should be taken as a wake-up call for Vietnam to boost up its efforts such that the government should do its part in the battle against wildlife trafficking. At the same time, Indonesia should do its part in tightening its laws and help establish breeding programs to revive its rhino population. With the establishment of breeding programs, rhinos would be reintroduced to Vietnam to help bring the species back from extinction. In addition to that, the people living near Cat Tien National Park are in a desperate need of help and as part of relief efforts, they should be convinced to refrain from hunting and educated about the ecological importance of the forests around them. As of now, the clock is ticking before the Javan rhinoceros is completely disappeared from the face of the earth.

View article here

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Yellowstone Bison Relocation Receives Tribal Support

The Sioux and Assiniboine tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation have prepared 4,800 acres in northeastern Montana for wild bison from Yellowstone National Park, but the idea is not popular with many of their neighbors. AP PHOTO/MICHAEL ALBANS
Meeting of Yellowstone Bison Relocation. Among the participants are members of Assiniboine and Sioux tribes.

It has been recently reported that a bison relocation hearing was held at Montana's Glasgow Civic Center. It was sponsored by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks in a plan to relocate Yellowstone's bison into four areas of the state. These include two wildlife management areas, and two Indian reservations: Fort Peck and Fort Belknap. In 2005 and 2006, bison were captured while leaving the national park and were held at quarantined ranches near Bozeman. Even though the effort was met with overwhelming opposition, about forty tribal members and officials from the Fort Peck Indian Reservation lent their support. Among the supporters included Robbie Magnan, the Fort Peck's tribal buffalo ranch manager, who believed the plan would help the reservation's members to reconnect with their traditions and culture. Councilman Stoney Anketell added that the relocation would help distribute bison meat to more than 1,000 diabetics on the reservation. The tribes from each of the two reservations had established their own parcels for the animals. The Fort Peck Indian Reservation consists of a 4,800-acre plot, while Fort Belknap has an 800-acre pasture. The plan, though, was met with opposition from some local ranchers who were concerned about the containment issue. One of them was Ken Hanson, a rancher from Blaine County, who expressed his opposition regarding mismanagement, neglect, and overcrowding. Some like Jason Holt was upset that the decision was being made by a state commission instead of local residents.
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The American bison has been the major food source to Native Americans for generations.
This article, in my opinion, gives a clear representation about the significance of the relationship between the American bison and the Native American tribes. For generations, this iconic creature of the American West had played a major role in their culture and traditions. It has also been a major food source, particularly to the Plains tribes such as the ArapahoCheyenne, and the Sioux. These tribes were famous for pursuing bison on horseback, and literally galloping side-by-side with their prey before bringing it down with bows and arrows. This risky hunting technique has been glorified in all forms of images, and has become a quintessential picture of the Wild West. However, populations of bison plummeted tremendously upon the arrival of early settlers in North America. And since then, conservation efforts were made to help revive the populations. Places like the Yellowstone National Park has shown good numbers of bison. But in the past few years, some individuals moved out of the park in an attempt to recolonize their ancestral lands fueling concerns among local ranchers. This, in turn, has led to this meeting of ranchers, wildlife officials, and even Native American tribal officials in a debate of relocating the animals. During the meeting, David Ditloff of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), expressed his support of the relocation to the reservations and not state wildlife reserves due to high costs. I also happen to agree with this idea of relocating Yellowstone's bison onto the reservations. This would not only be a way for the Native Americans to reconnect with their roots, but also maintain the bison population of Yellowstone. These animals were a major food source to the tribes, and have been an integral part of their culture. I also believe that, as part of the effort, any bison destined to a reservation must be tested for brucellosis. While it is known that the disease causes abortion of the fetus, it is not known what effects it has to humans. This is why it is crucial to test the animals, regarding health concerns for both the bison and the people.

View article here

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Surge in the Illegal Trafficking of Infant Gorillas

A gorilla infant

It has been reported that wildlife officials in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have warned about a rise in trafficking of infant gorillas. Earlier this month, park rangers captured a gang of poachers during an undercover sting making it the fourth incident since April and a record year for such offenders caught with young gorillas. At that time, rangers came dressed as ordinary civilians and made contact with the perpetrators who provided them a 1.5-year-old male eastern lowland gorilla. The rangers then arrested the offenders after having possession of the youngster. According to the operation's leader, Christian Shamavu, it was possible that the infant's mother was killed even though the poachers never admit to this. Out of the four known species, mountain gorillas are the largest and the most critically endangered with only about 790 individuals remaining. Out of that estimate, approximately 480 live in the Virunga National Park and slightly more than 300 in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest of Uganda. The smaller eastern lowland gorillas are more numerous, but mostly outside protected areas and still under threat. Between April and June, authorities confiscated infant lowland gorillas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In August, Rwandan police recovered an infant mountain gorilla as poachers attempted to smuggle it across the border.

I'm extremely shocked to see what has been going on to the western gorilla populations during these months. But what really shocked me was the statement by Virunga National Park's director Emmanuel de Merode. In his own words, he stated that the trafficking of infant gorillas is occurring in areas controlled by rebels. He further added that he and other authorities are "powerless to control the international trade, but the rangers are doing everything they can to stamp it out on the ground." I personally do not think this enough to combat this catastrophe. The DRC is in a great need of help regarding the rebel-controlled areas on its eastern side, and it is likely that they maybe providing poachers protection thus allowing their illicit business to continue. I believe that in order to take down the business, one possible way would be to target the rebels. This would make the poachers more vulnerable to law enforcement, making them an easy prey for authorities. At the same time, border security should be tightened such that neither the poachers nor the rebels can smuggle their "merchandise" or even be in contact with their counterparts in another nation. The region had once suffered a bloody period of genocide and civil unrest involving lives of countless innocent civilians, but now the victims are gorillas and other species of animals making their home in the surrounding jungles.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Global Warming Threatens Homeland of India's Brow-Antlered Deer

A brow-antlered deer in Manipur
 In India, the threat of global warming came into spotlight when the Sunderbans mangrove forests were reported to have experienced rise in water levels. In turn, wildlife was forced to seek drier land and among the animals affected the most were tigers. It is said that tigers would move close to human settlements, putting the entire community in a state of fear. But now, there is another creature that is threatened by global warming. It is an unusual, but extremely beautiful deer known locally as sangai. Also called the brow-antlered deer, it is endemic chiefly to Keibul Lamjao National Park in the state of Manipur on India's northeast corner. This picturesque national park is characterized by the Loktak Lake, making it the only floating park in the world. However, global warming has put Keibul Lamjao National Park vulnerable almost to the point of extinction. Due to rise in temperatures, decomposed plant materials known as phumdis would increase their rate of decomposition. According to Dr. N.C Talukdar, Director of Institute of Bioresources and Sustainable Development (IBSD), the increase in decomposition of phumdis would reduce their thickness in turn affecting the ecological process of the lake.

Loktak Lake and phumdis in Keibul Lamjao National Park
A two-day workshop was held during which a scientist pointed out that Assam has similar phumdis, but are not available because of its warm climatic conditions. Out of several participants at the workshop, the Ministry of Environment and Forests had submitted the first comprehensive report on the impact of climate change developed by the Indian Network for Climate Change Assessment (INCCA). According to the report, minimum temperatures are likely to increase from 1 degree Celsius to 2.5 degrees Celsius and maximum temperatures from 1 degree to 3.5 degrees Celsius in northeast India by 2030. Adding to that was Dr. Nitasha Sharma of the Indian Institute of Sciences, Bangalore, who admitted that the region will be warmer by 2 degrees by 2021-2050 period.
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The national park is home to other unique species of animals, too. Like this python
This article gives a clear representation of how global warming is threatening much of India's wild places associated with water. It is not just the Sunderbans that are experiencing the rise in water levels, but also Keibul Lamjao National Park. This wildlife sanctuary consists of a lake that is unique for having phumdis, which are formed by accumulation of organic garbage and biomass with soil particles thickened into a solid form. These floating islands are said to play an important role in the ecological process of Loktak Lake. But they, along with the wildlife, are under threat of flooding caused by climate change. This is why it is extremely crucial to take action against the threat of global warming. In addition to that, the park is deeply affected by man-made threats like hydroelectric projects built on the lake which affects phumdis' vegetation growth. Also, the park's iconic creature, the brow-antlered deer, is suffering from starvation. One of the possible reasons for this is the wrath of an invasive plant species known as buffalo grass from Africa. Originally used as fodder during the 1960s, this plant is now destroying the native plant species. Along with global warming, a great deal of attention should be applied to controlling this plant species and also to investigate the causes of starvation amongst the population of the deer. But what really surprised me is the idea of translocating the deer from the park. Although I understand that this is a way to prevent the population from being wiped out, there should be research as to where to translocate the animal. But for now, I personally feel that there should be focus on the threat of global warming, hydroelectric projects, and the buffalo grass. The brow-antlered deer's population is estimated to be around 180 from 2003, and it is not known what is its current population now. This is why it is necessary to save it from the brink of extinction, for this is the state animal of Manipur.

View article here

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Mindoro Dwarf Buffalo on the Brink of Extinction

A Mindoro Dwarf Buffalo or Tamaraw

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has recently announced that the elusive Mindoro dwarf buffalo is on the verge of extinction. Known locally as tamaraw, this is the smallest member of the bovine family endemic to the forests and grasslands of Mounts Iglit-Baco National Park in the Mindoro Oriental and Mounts Aruyan and Calavite of Mindoro Occidental. Unlike most cattle, this particular species possesses stout, V-shaped backward-pointing horns. During the 1960s, there were an estimated 10,000 of these unique creatures but were reduced to 274 due to poaching, habitat loss, and even disease. In response, the government launched the Tamaraw Conservation Program (TCP) in 1979 to address the causes of decline in the animal's numbers. One of the strategies in reviving the tamaraw population was captive breeding, and in 1982, the first TCP farm was established. Unfortunately, out of the 21 animals captured for the gene pool, only one survived and remains in the only living occupant on the farm. However, there had been reports about individuals breeding in the wild, which led the program to focus on other components in managing the wild populations and their habitat. In addition to that, it has also started conducting education and information campaigns. Part of the intensive information campaign included a video shown in government offices, shipping lines plying the Mindoro route, and even local cable television. Also, as part of the education campaign, it is said that students and teachers will participate in separate day camps at the Tamaraw Gene Pool Farm in Mindoro.
A tamaraw engraved on a Philippine peso

I'm also once again proud with what the people of the Philippines are doing with regard to helping their land's wildlife. Earlier, it was reported that the populations of crocodiles were on the agenda. And now, there is another creature which is being given the attention. The Mindoro dwarf buffalo is one of the two most unique species of wild cattle that are much smaller than their larger cousins. The other is the anoa of Indonesia. Like the tamaraw, it too has a pair of V-shaped horns pointing backwards and has become rare due to habitat destruction and poaching. While it is not known what the current state in the anoa population is, it is clear that the tamaraw's population is in a critical condition. While there have been plans to create a public outreach towards the community in helping this creature, I also feel that it is crucial to investigate the disease epidemic that also contributed to its downfall over the years. With that, along with education, I believe the population of the tamaraw would be saved from the brink of extinction.

View article here

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Rescued Lion Cub in Beirut Highlights Middle East's Illegal Pet Trade

This African lion cub was one of several victims of Middle East's growing illegal pet trade

An African lion cub was recently rescued from a balcony in Downtown Beirut. Its rescue put the spotlight of Middle East's illegal pet trade, and pointed out the much-needed regional protection of endangered species. The five-week-old cub was illegally smuggled into Lebanon, and will be sent to a wildlife sanctuary in South Africa. According to Jason Mier, executive director of the non-governmental organization Animals Lebanon, the cub was likely to had been brought in from Syria where he personally visited several private zoos selling big cats to importers in the region. Lana al-Khalil, the NGO's president, further added that Animals Lebanon had revealed Syria's zoos offering newborn lion cubs for $350 each and workers who advise on how to successfully bring a lion to Lebanon. She even said that a zoo owner reported bringing eight lions from Syria and admitted they all had died because they were too young to be separated from their mothers. Despite their deaths, the popularity of having these majestic beasts as pets has increased drastically in recent years. In addition to lions, cheetahs and other African wildcats are also kept as pets. Mier also added that the number of private zoos is increasing throughout the Middle East, and many have no regional zoo association to keep check on the menageries. They are chiefly preserves for the wealthy, who buy these exotic animals as symbols of status and having little concern for their welfare.
This individual is lucky to be sent to a wildlife sanctuary in South Africa. But many victims do not end up this way. Instead, they are deprived of their freedom living inside homes of rich individuals who have little or no concern of their pets' welfare.

This article gives a clear notion about how the concept of the word "zoo" is misinterpreted. During the early days, they were simply a private collection for rich individuals and evolved into centers of education and conservation. This idea has led to the establishment of the World Association for Zoos and Aquariums, which consist of several zoological facilities committed to both conservation and education. Unfortunately in Lebanon, no private zoo has met these standards and is chiefly a private collection of wild animals having little or no care at all. But what really shocks me is the fact that many owners of these untameable beasts do not see the problem in keeping their "prized possessions," even if they become too big and have to live in a backyard. My theory is that there are some rich individuals in the region, who do not realize that they are experimenting with danger by keeping lions and other big cats as pets. Beirut, which is deemed as the cultural and business center in the region, had once been nearly shattered during a bloody civil war. But now, there is a new ticking time bomb in the midst of the city: the illegal pet trade. Among the victims are big cats and other potentially dangerous animals, which are most likely to critically injure or kill their owners. Or worse, escape from their enclosures and terrorize the public. This is why it is crucial to battle this lucrative, yet dangerous business. Otherwise, both the animals and the public will suffer casualties. In addition to that, I hope that Lebanon will join CITES. This will help the nation in preventing any further flow of exotic pets in its towns and cities. But for now, the community really needs to step up against this ongoing atrocity. There are lives at stake, both wild and civilized.

View article here

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Ozark Hellbender Salamanders Declared Endangered

An Ozark Hellbender Salamander

It has recently been reported that the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service has declared the Ozark hellbender salamander as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. At the same time, the service also made a final decision in listing this salamander along with its relative the hellbender under Appendix III of CITES. According to the service's Midwest regional director Tom Melius, the Ozark hellbender is on the verge of extinction. Growing up to two feet long, the population of this bizarre amphibian decreased to an estimated 75 % during the 1980s with only 590 individuals remaining in the wild. It is thought that the causes of the downfall in the salamander's numbers include degradation in water quality, and habitat loss due to impoundments, ore and gravel mining, sedimentation and the pet trade. In addition to that, the salamander is also threatened by a fungal disease known as chytridiomycosis and severe physical distortions such as lesions, appendage and digit loss, and epidermal sloughing.
The Chinese giant salamander (above) and the Japanese giant salamander (below) are also equally threatened as the hellbender.

What is interesting about this article is that it gives a clear picture about the plight of a unique species of salamander that functions as a keystone species in several freshwater ecosystems in the southern and eastern U.S. The hellbender salamander is well-known because it belongs to a family of salamanders known as Cryptobranchidae, more commonly known as giant salamanders. These are the largest species of salamanders in the world. They are believed to have descended from an extinct species known as Andrias scheuchzeri, which grew up to a maximum of three feet in length. However, among its descendents, the largest are the Chinese and Japanese giant salamanders which grow up to six feet and five feet in length respectively. Although these colossal behemoths appear to have straight out of a sci-fi movie, they play a major role in maintaining the ecological balance in their aquatic habitats. Unfortunately, many are under threat from issues such as habitat loss caused by building of dams and even poaching for food and medicine. The hellbender salamander also faces these threats, though it has never been hunted for its flesh like its oriental cousins. However, it faces threats like loss of habitat, the pet trade, and until now from a fungal disease. This is why it is crucial to study this unique creature, in order to understand what may be causing this disease and hopefully find some way(s) to battle it. At the same time, the populations of Chinese and Japanese giant salamanders demand strict protection in their native homelands.

View article here  

Monday, October 3, 2011

Latest Indian Bustard Census Brings Light of Hope to Wildlife Experts

A great Indian bustard

The latest great Indian bustard census conducted in Maharashtra has showed an increase from nine to thirteen birds in the Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary. This census was composed by the GIB Foundation and the Pune Wildlife Division covering hot spots like the Rehkuri Blackbuck Sanctuary, and the Karmala and Nannaj divisions of the Bustard Sanctuary in Solapur. According to experts, the results were a sign of hope for Maharashtra which is now an indicator state for the existence of these birds. They also felt that a thorough search needs to be put into action for new habitats for the birds. Although the find seemed like good news, an in-depth look by Dr. Pramod Patil uncovered an unbalanced sex ratio where only three birds out of the thirteen counted were males. Dr. Patil, who is the conservation biologist and director of the GIB Foundation, had written and assembled a census manual from which the exercise was based off. It detailed important keys in bustard conservation such as its identification, male and female differentiation, and information on indirect evidences such as feathers and droppings. Dr. Patil also added that Maharashtra has become an indicator state, in which the birds bear maximum pressure from humans as the grasslands where they live are densely populated.

I'm also glad to see that there is some hope for the great Indian bustard, but I also feel that this recent count is an indicator that the population is still critical. With just three males out of the thirteen birds, there is less chance of reproduction in order to increase the populations. This is why it is crucial to take further measures in protecting the populations of these birds. Dr. Asad Rahmani, the director of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and an expert on bustard conservation, stated that the Environment Ministry should "look beyond just tigers." He further stressed that there should be a "Project Bustard on the lines of Project Tiger to protect the species." I happen to strongly agree with Dr. Rahmani's statement. India is one of the few places in this world where there is a rich diversity of wildlife. And within this diversity, there is not one wild animal that is considered to be special over another. Every creature is unique in its own way, and each plays a major role in sustaining the ecosystem of the subcontinent. Therefore, every wild creature should be equally protected by any means necessary. Like the bustard, leopards in India are also not receiving much protection compared to their larger cousins, the tigers. This is why many are ruthlessly poached for their pelts and most of the cases go unreported. This was especially the case in the state of Uttarakhand. Just because an animal that is fully adapted to change in habitat does not mean it should be left on its own without any protection. The bustard's range, compared to the leopard's, is limited yet it has been facing an onslaught of threats ranging from grazing pressure to human encroachment. As a person of Indian origin, I personally believe that if no wild creature, regardless of its status, is unprotected, the motherland will lose its own status as being one of the world's most biodiverse regions on our planet.

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Saturday, October 1, 2011

Uttarakhand- A Killing Zone for Leopards

An Indian leopard

The state of Uttarakhand in northern India is reputed to be one of the most beautiful places in the subcontinent. Situated under the shadows of the Himalayas, this heavenly oasis is home to several Hindu temples and holy cities giving it the nickname "The Land of Gods." But amid the serenity, a dark shadow looms over the horizon. With both mountain and forest habitat making up the natural beauty, Uttarakhand is a haven for wildlife. And it is the abundance of wild animals, which has made this picturesque hill region prone to poaching. Among the animals targeted are leopards. In 2011 alone, Uttarakhand witnessed over 136 registered poaching cases involving leopards. But out of that figure, only 51 were reported. In two separate incidents, three leopard skins were confiscated in the last ten days. One was seized Thursday by the Uttarakhand Special Task Force (STF) in Dehradun, resulting in the arrest of two people. Two others were confiscated along with a gallbladder of a Himalayan black bear, a musk gland from a musk deer, and other animal body parts in the town of Uttarkashi. The strike was carried out by the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI). On September 21st, three poachers were arrested and a leopard skin was seized from their possession in the city of Rishikesh.
Leopard skins

I'm very much appalled by the fact that leopards are not being given the kind of attention its relatives the lion and the tiger are receiving. According to this article, the conservation of leopards is more or less clubbed with that of tigers. Unlike tigers, leopards inhabit almost every corner of the subcontinent making them the most successful big cats in the world. However, it is this adaptability that has made them vulnerable to persecution by people in areas where there are occasional man-leopard conflicts. But compared to tigers and other endangered species, there has never been a leopard census carried out determine numbers of these countrywide cats within and outside protected areas. This, in my opinion, is truly one of the major flaws with the conservation system in India. Leopards are in the same grave threat as tigers and several other endangered species in India. Figures indicate that more numbers of leopards are killed than tigers. Last year, a total of 180 animals were slaughtered across the nation. I personally feel that leopards in India should be required the same kind of help that other endangered species like tigers are receiving. There are places like Sri Lanka, Pakistan, the Middle East, and parts of North Africa where lions and tigers disappeared thousands of years ago leaving the leopard to be the top predator. But what is the situation of its population in those regions these days? Is it being fully protected by any conservation groups? Whatever the reason, it is only in India where this cat shares its habitat with its larger cousins in present day. Unfortunately, it has not been receiving the same kind of protection as lions and tigers. These animals are facing the same threats as their larger relatives. They are ruthlessly hunted for their pelts like tigers, and are victims of the illegal wildlife trade. It appears that people seem to care more about the plight of lions and tigers. To them, their ranges are more limited compared to the leopard. To me, that is downright outrageous! Leopards should be treated equally in terms of protection like their more powerful cousins. Because like them, they are also suffering in the hands of greedy poachers who would go through any lengths to make fast money out of their pelts and any other body parts.

View article here