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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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