Friday, September 30, 2011

Crocodile Population Study to be Conducted in the Philippines' Agusan Marsh

A Philippine crocodile

It has been recently announced that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) will conduct a series of studies on the crocodile population of the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary. Ramon J. P. Paje, the department's secretary, stated that this is going to be a scientific study which will not only include experts from DENR itself but also other groups. These include representative experts from the sanctuary's Protected Area Management Board (PAMB), local academic institutions, non-government organizations, and the Crocodylus Porosus Philippines, Inc. (CPPI). Out of these groups, the CPPI is a private organization consisting of six legitimate crocodile breeders who base their stock from the Palawan Rescue and Conservation Center which is managed by the DENR.
A saltwater crocodile

Mr. Paje hopes that this study will provide the department necessary information on the abundance of crocodiles within the marsh. From that information, they will set up their short and long term management program for the reptiles. He further explained that the study will also involve education and information campaigns to raise community awareness on preventing any crocodile attacks in the area. He also added that the study hopes to form a local expertise on crocodile monitoring and habitat evaluation. In addition to that, the government of Bunawan, Agusan del Sur has shown full support of for the study and has joined forces with the DENR in establishing management measures for a crocodile named Lolong. These measurements include establishing an appropriate facility or improving an existing one, visitor management, crocodile health maintenance, community training, record-keeping, and reporting.
Lolong; a 21-foot saltwater crocodile captured early this month

I'm very proud to see what the people in the Philippines are doing regarding the crocodile conservation, especially in the area where the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary stands. This is the largest freshwater wetland in the nation, covering 14,836 hectares and is home to the largest concentrations of Philippine crocodiles and the infamous saltwater crocodiles. Incidentally, the area had witnessed early this month when a monstrous discovery when a 21-foot-long saltwater crocodile was captured. Named Lolong, this 2,370-pound male is currently spending his time in captivity where he will remain. However, he is one of several crocodiles making their home in Bunawan. With so many crocodiles, the local people would definitely be in grave danger. This is why it was crucial to conduct a study on these reptiles and to ensure public safety. It is slated to begin in November and end in April 2012. All in all, I'm happy to see the people are taking this initiative instead of persecuting these creatures. Because as far as their bloodthirsty reputation as man-eaters goes, they play a major role in sustaining their wetland ecosystem.

View article here        

Assam's Forest Guards and Workers Quit Over Unpaid Salaries

An Indian one-horned rhinoceros in Kaziranga National Park

It has been recently reported that forest guards and workers of Assam's national parks have quit their jobs because the state government has not paid them their seven months' salaries. Many of these employees come from Assam's top national parks. These include the famed Kaziranga and Manas National Parks, both of which are World Heritage Sites. Others include Orang National Park, Dibru Saikhowa National Park, Nameri National Park, and the Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary. Many of these wild places house some of the rich variety of wildlife in northeast India, including its iconic creature the Indian one-horned rhinoceros. But now, they have lost a great deal of workers who are crucial for the protection of these majestic beasts against poaching. Kaziranga has already lost thirty people, and more are expected to follow. In Orang National Park, 25 out of 68 guards and 45 casual workers left. One forest guard explained how the government kept making promises about paying him and others their funds in August, but switching to days before holidays such as Eid and the Durga Puja. As a result, neither he nor anyone else received their salaries. Assam's State Minister of Finance Rockybul Hussain said that the delay for funds is a recurring problem every year. He further added that it has to be removed from the finance department, but the procedure is long. However, he said that the situation is not as critical as it seems, since there are permanent staff members present in these national parks.

My opinion about this news is that it is definitely critical for the lives of both workers and the wildlife. Without the forest guards, the wildlife in these wild places are vulnerable to the threat of poachers. Some like Kaziranga and Manas National Parks are labeled as World Heritage Sites, and if poaching continues to ravage, then they will lose their prestigious status. Incidentally, the last few days had seen high activity in poaching in the parks. But now, with more and more forest guards quitting their jobs, it will allow poachers to gain advantage. I deeply feel that the state government of Assam should respond and act fast before any of this goes further. It has been said that before the festive seasons of Diwali, Durga Puja, and Dussehra, poachers try to make their fast money through their illicit activities. This is why the situation is crucial. The lack of manpower in protecting the biodiversity of Assam is the same as in any other region. With forest guards giving up their positions, they are making way for poachers to do what they do best.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

South Korea to Turn Demilitarized Zone into a Biosphere Reserve

An Amur leopard is one of several animal species found in an untouched demilitarized zone between North and South Korea
 Recently, South Korea has filed an application with the UNESCO to convert a part of a demilitarized zone between itself and North Korea into a biosphere reserve. Out of 580 UNESCO biosphere reserves worldwide, South Korea currently has four. This zone, which spans 250 kilometers from coast to coast and measures about four kilometers wide, has been in place since 1953. The application aims to 425 square kilometers of the zone closest to South Korea, as well as an extra 2,554 square kilometers of its territory. It has been left alone for more than fifty years, and yet the area is full of land mines. Despite this, the zone has become a sanctuary for many rare species. A statement from the Republic of Korea Ministry of Environment found that 2,716 species live within the zone, many of which are endangered. A survey released in 2010 showed that the species are almost extinct in other parts of South Korea. These include creatures like the Amur leopard cat, the Japanese crane, and the Siberian musk deer. Others include the white-naped crane, the Asiatic black bear, and even the elusive Amur leopard. In addition to that, some scientists suspect there might even be a few Siberian tigers, but no conclusive proof has been found.

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An Asian black bear is also found to make its home in the zone

This, to me, is a very amazing and incredible moment for South Korea. The idea's roots date back to the 1990s when it was first proposed. At that time, scientists feared that any reunification of North and South Korea could lead to problems for wildlife in the zone. In 2005, media mogul Ted Turner proposed turning the zone into a "peace park" and a World Heritage Site. It is hoped that if South Korea is given the UNESCO biosphere designation, it will protect the region under its Wetland Conservation and Cultural Properties Protection acts. In addition to that, it will also revise its Natural Environment Conservation Act to provide funding for the area and promote ecotourism.

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Japanese cranes have also been sighted
 I also hope that South Korea will be given this designation. Because the nation and its northern neighbor have gained notoriety for environmental issues ranging from acid rain, to water and air pollution. A 2003 report by the United Nations revealed a large scale of deforestation, polluted rivers, and poor air quality. Also, North Korea had accepted a shipment of endangered species from Zimbabwe, many of which are put to fight against each other and captured on tape to be sold both to local and foreign consumers. Some had even leaked into South Korea. This is why I firmly believe that both the Koreas should team up together, in order to combat such environmental catastrophes or forever be labeled as places of peril for the global wildlife.

View article here        

South Africa and Vietnam Join Forces to Curb Rhino Poaching

A southern white rhinoceros

It has been recently reported that South Africa has now joined hands with Vietnam in an effort to stem rhino poaching. South Africa, which is home to 93 % of Africa's rhino population, had witnessed a mass murder of 333 animals last year. This year, 309 have been killed. Representatives from both nations said that they will work together on matters relating to the illegal wildlife trade, information sharing, and procedures on law enforcement and prosecution. South Africa met with Vietnam to call on the increasing demand for rhino horns in Asia, which are believed to contain medicinal properties. According to Kien Nguyen, Counselor at South Africa's Vietnamese Embassy, Vietnam needs to wake up and realize that a rhino's horn does not contain such remedies to cure illnesses such as cancer. In addition to that, Mike Knight, chairman of a rhino-monitoring group established by the Southern African Development Community, stated that Africa's rhino population would decline in the next couple years if poaching continues at its current rate.

Rhino horns were believed to contain remedies against several types of illnesses, including cancer
I'm amazed to see that South Africa has now started to partner up with one of the nations where the threat of illegal wildlife trade looms large. Before that, South Africa was strictly relying on its own methods in order to combat poaching that had decimated its rhino population. But now, it has taken a step further and allied with Vietnam in this ongoing battle. In addition to that, the article also reported that the next phase will be to involve China and Thailand in the war. This means there will be an increased cooperation between nations that are major centers of illicit activities concerning wildlife both local and exotic.
View article here       

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rare American Crocodile Sighted in Central Florida

An American crocodile

Among the reptiles that inhabit Florida, the most common and well-known is the American alligator. This majestic cold-blooded behemoth is found all over the state, with its range covering the majority of the South. But it is only in Florida where this scaly beast of the bayous shares its habitat with its larger and rarer cousin: the American crocodile. Unlike the alligator, the American crocodile's range is strictly limited to South Florida, including around the Florida Keys and its population is estimated to be around 1,500 individuals. However, this changed recently when one was spotted resting near a lake in St. Petersburg further up north. Upon its sighting, the eight-foot-long monster was safely captured by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Officials plan to release it in the nearby Tampa Bay, hoping that the new habitat would prevent it from returning to the neighborhoods. According to Lindsey Hord, the commission's crocodile response coordinator, it was possible that this was the same crocodile that was sighted three years ago. She further added that the animal had been feeding on ducks in the lake.

I think one reason for this sudden discovery is that the crocodile probably made its way up when the availability of waterfowl was scarce in its former place. The second reason maybe that the population of these reptiles in South Florida must have reached its capacity, and individuals are seeking out new places to settle. Whatever the reason, this discovery clearly illustrates how the conservation of the American crocodile has helped sustain its population and has allowed it to grow steadily over the years. Like the alligators, these reptiles are crucial in sustaining the local ecosystems especially the estuaries (alligators are chiefly associated with freshwater). And I feel that as long as these reptiles continue to receive protection, they will recolonize their former haunts where they had once disappeared.

View article here

Monday, September 26, 2011

Exotic Fish Species Turning Up in Texas Waterways

A red-bellied piranha caught in Texas' Tom Bass Park

When most people think about the exotic pet trade in the U.S, what comes in their mind is Florida. This warm tropical paradise has been a major hub for this lucrative business for decades. However, the business has spelled disaster to the Sunshine State as many of these exotic creatures escape out into the native wild lands and even the suburbs. These animals range from giant rats to giant snakes, who affect the local communities and ecosystems through predation and even disease-spreading. This idea gives a clear example of how the demand for exotic pets has made threatened the lives of both the native residents and the wildlife.
A tilapia

While Florida still remains the center of exotic pets, further west is another state that has gained a similar notoriety for such invasive species: Texas. But instead of rats, snakes, and other creatures which unexpectedly turn up in people's backyards, the animals in this case are fish. And these aquatic exotic species have been turning up in the Lone Star State's waterways. One particular case was reported on August 27th when a red-bellied piranha was caught in a 23-acre lake at the Tom Bass Park in Harris County. This was the second piranha to be reported in Texas' waters. The first one documented was in 1982 at the Boerne City Reservoir in Kendall County. But piranhas are not the only exotic fish with a fearsome reputation to suddenly show up in Texas. Other potentially dangerous fish include freshwater stingrays and snakeheads.
An Asian white carp caught in the Galveston Bay watershed

The number one reason for this appearance is the aquarium trade, in which people would purchase the fish off the Internet and then release them into the water bodies once they outgrow their tanks. Despite the penalty for possessing and releasing live exotic fish, more and more are being discovered in the waterways. Robert Goodrich, an assistant chief for fisheries law enforcement of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), is one of several authorities who has seen the increased number of fish being brought in. He further added that he and other wardens regularly come across individuals who simply ignore the consequences of owning and releasing such fish. In addition to that, several fisheries are worried about competition in which the exotic species would dominate over the native species. Among the exotic species, it has been said that the armored catfish, the tilapia, and the grass carp have already set up self-sustaining populations in Texas.
An armored catfish

My opinion about this article is that it gives a clear idea about how the exotic pet trade has been threatening the local wildlife of the U.S. When people think of various disastrous issues related to this business, Florida is the ultimate place of such mayhem. Scores of exotic reptiles suddenly show up in people's neighborhoods after escaping from their enclosures, and even wind up out in the surrounding ecosystems competing against the native wildlife. But now, there is a similar sinister situation occurring in Texas where exotic fish are swimming about in the waterways. Some like the piranha, the snakehead, and the freshwater stingray are notorious for being dangerous to humans. Like reptiles in Florida, these fearsome fish are carelessly released out into the waters by some reckless individuals who never think about the consequences of committing such deeds. Not only are these people attempting to destroy the native wildlife, but are also endangering lives of other people. This is why I firmly believe it is crucial to control the populations of these fish, in order to prevent them from any further damage to the ecosystems.

View article here

Monday, September 19, 2011

China's Demand in Ivory Revives Illegal Trade

An African bush elephant

The months of July and August had witnessed some of the biggest seizures of illegal ivory destined for China. These confiscations occurred in three separate nations: Tanzania, Hong Kong, and Malaysia. During these seizures, a total of nearly 3,600 tusks from an estimated 1,800 elephants were confiscated. However, despite the affirmative and swift action taken, China still refused to back down with growing demand from ivory from newly prosperous consumers. According to the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), a London-based non-governmental organization, ivory prices in China have increased to as high as $7,000 per kilogram in 2011 from $157 per kilo in 2008. Other researchers and NGOs estimated the prices to be as low as $300 to $750 per kilo, but that has gone up by 100 % over three years. A report released by the Center for the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) indicated that more than 6,500 kilograms of ivory was seized in China and Hong Kong from 2009 to June 2011. This has made China the world's largest consumer of market for illegal ivory after Japan.

A news report like this just disgusts me to hear about the lives of elephants lost in this ongoing bloodshed fueled by greed and a lust for power. In China, ivory is perceived as a traditional symbol of wealth and power. This is why the growing demand for ivory has been increasing with extremely tragic results since the late 1970s. During that time period, numbers of elephants had plunged from 1.2 million animals to between 472,000 and 690,000 in present day. And it is still brewing with simply no regard to life. I feel that the world should wake up, and realize how this carnage is continuing to exploit our planet of its natural treasures and take action to prevent it from further extending its tentacles. Several consumers who buy ivory either do not realize or do not care about the horrors of the procedure to produce such elaborate works of arts. This, to me personally, is the main reason the demand for ivory continues to grow. And it is the reason why further action is crucial to keep the fight against illegal ivory going.

View article here

Sunday, September 18, 2011

West Coast's Loggerhead Turtles Added to Endangered Species List

A captive loggerhead turtle

It has been recently reported that the loggerhead turtle has been added to the Endangered Species List by the U.S. This increasingly rare reptile has been threatened by a wide range of issues, from plastic trash to poaching, oil spills, and habitat destruction. The National Marine Fisheries Service shifted the population in the North Pacific from "threatened" to "endangered" on the list after four years of lobbying. Marine biologists say that the turtles, which regulate the California coast, have decreased by 80 % in the past ten years. The turtles nest on the shores of Japan, but spend most of their time along the coasts of southern California and Mexico. According to Chris Pincetich, a marine biologist for the Sea Turtle Restoration Project of the Turtle Island Restoration Network, they would occasionally venture up to northern California when the water is warmer during El Nino weather patterns. He further added that the turtles are subjects to threats by Chinese, Japanese, and Taiwanese longline fleets that are not under U.S fishing regulations. In addition to that, they often get hooked by swordfish boats from Hawaii and drown. Since 2007, legal petitions were filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network. The rule divided the loggerhead turtle into nine populations worldwide, out of which five are endangered. Among those unlisted as endangered included the Northwest Atlantic loggerhead, which Mr. Pincetich cited stated is threatened by the increasing threats from shrimp trawlers and the BP oil spill.
A resting loggerhead

The last part of this article is yet another example of what happens when the government is in charge of deciding whether a specific species of animal should be endangered or not endangered. This action leads to the future of such creatures to be very bleak. This was especially the case with the wolf population on the U.S mainland. Because their populations reached well over a thousand individuals, the government decided it was best to delist them as endangered species and allow human hunters to hunt them as with any North American big game animal. This decision never sat well with various conservation groups, who are experts in making such decisions based on science and not politics. Now, there are loggerhead turtles that are in a similar situation, especially the ones that frequent the shores of Northwest Atlantic. I personally feel that they are in a great need of help due to threats from factors such as shrimp trawlers and the aftermath of the B.P oil spill. Without these reptiles, the ecology of the waters where they frequent will never sustain. This is why it is crucial to turn the attention on these particular turtles. And at the same time, the ones living in the Pacific should also be helped regarding threats from eastern longline fleets.

View article here      

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Scientists Discover Dozen New Species of Frogs in India

The Wayanad night frog; one of several newly discovered frogs in the Western Ghats

It has been recently reported that a team of scientists in India found a dozen new species of frogs along with three others which were thought to have been extinct. What is interesting about this discovery is that previously there was little attention in the conservation of amphibians, and more on animals like tigers and elephants. However, this recent study focused on animals that were extremely hard to spot. In this case, it was frogs who generally come out at dark during the monsoon season. The research team was led by Sathyabhama Das Biju, a biologist from University of Delhi. Together, they spent their time out in the dark damp forests listening to frogs and shining torches under rocks and across riverbeds. As part of their research, the team noted that half of the new species reproduce without any physical contact between both the sexes. Despite this, the parents actively guard their eggs, protecting them from predators, and bringing water to keep them moist. One of these newly discovered frogs included the meowing night frog, which was named for its unique catlike croak. Another was the Wayanad Night Frog, which was noted to be as large as a baseball. They were all discovered in the region of the Western Ghats in southern India.
A meowing night frog

This news is a clear and perfect example about how India is one of the few most biodiverse hotspots in the world. Scientists carrying out their research have discovered new species, which were never seen before. In my opinion, this is a clear indication to why it is important and crucial to protect and preserve such places from any form of encroachment. Some of the animals play a major role in judging the health of the environment. According to Mr. Biju, the frogs are good indicators of climate change and pollutants in the environment. Unfortunately, the Global Wildlife Conservation states that 32 % of amphibians are threatened to extinction largely due to habitat loss and pollution. I firmly believe that if human encroachment towards any biodiverse hotspot is uncontrolled, then the wildlife, including the keystone species, will disappear. In the case of frogs, without their existance, how will we learn to help stop climate change? This is why, it is crucial for the world to know about the importance of such biodiverse hotspots and how they can help us in understanding any change in climate and how to prevent it from further changing.
A jog night frog guarding its eggs

View article here

Friday, September 16, 2011

Annual Great Indian Bustard Census Underway

Great Indian bustard

It has recently been announced that an annual census of the great Indian bustard will be carried out on September 18th in the Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary of Solapur. It will be conducted by the Pune Wildlife Division, and will cover the Rehekuri Blackbuck Sanctuary, along with the Karmala and Nannaj Divisions of the bustard sanctuary. Since 2005, census figures showed that the numbers of bustards had shrunk significantly between 22 to 30 individuals. However, in 2010, figures indicated that the numbers had plummeted tremendously to just nine birds. According to chief conservator of forests M.K Rao, the census may not give the exact number of birds and may fluctuate owing to many factors. However, he did say that it will help in identifying areas visited by the birds so they can be developed as prime habitats. The census will be using a block count or point method to determine the birds' number. More than fifty points will be covered. A similar event last year brought around hundred volunteers.
Painting of bustards

This year's event will likely be seeing the same number. On the day before the census, a pre-census workshop set up by the GIB Foundation and the Pune Wildlife Division will prepare forest staff, participants, and volunteers for the event. According to Dr. Pramod Patil, founder of the GIB Foundation, the workshop covers the birds' identification, ecology, precautions, threats, and conservation. He further added that they will carry out audio-visual tests on identification for participants, and instructions will be provided as to not to disturb the birds and other wildlife. Dr. Patil even stated that he has put together a one-of-a-kind manual that provides information on bustard identification, male and female differentiation, and information on proofs such as feathers, droppings, etc.
An Indian stamp depicting bustards

In my opinion, this article clearly illustrates the first step in helping to revive the population of the great Indian bustard. It also gives a clear example about the purposes of a census. In this case, a census is not something to only determine the number of a particular species of animals. It also helps in the identification of areas that could be frequented by that species of animal. And in order to identify such areas, conservationists look for signs of evidence such as tracks, droppings, etc. to indicate the animal's presence. In this case, it is the bustard. Over the recent years, numbers of these birds had shrunk to a great deal. However, they received help from conservationists and locals in order to sustain their current population. Now, with this census underway soon, there is a good chance that these birds will remain in their current habitats provided that conservationists will give out the word to the locals about their existence.

View article here

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Continued Poaching in Armenia Shocks Conservationists

Easy Game: Armenian conservationists alarmed by continued poaching of Red Book species
The Armenian mouflon is one of several animals threatened by ongoing poaching.

A recent report has shown that conservationists and environmentalists in Armenia are in a tremendous shock over the continuing poaching of wild animals. On the other hand, those in charge of Armenia's wild places insist that such cases have been decreasing year by year. They also assure that the nation is committed to protect wild animals in the Red Book of Endangered Species. One of them is Aram Aghasyam, head of the Department of Preserves of the Environment Ministry's Bioresources Management Agency. In an interview, he explained that measures were taken in recent years to ensure protection in such areas where the activities were rampant. Among the measures included recruitment of more personnel, provision of vehicles and fuel, etc.

Bezoar ibex
But conservationists still stress that poaching cases occur more frequently, especially in unprotected areas that house endangered species. It has been estimated that an average of five to six cases of poaching occur each month. Most are connected to poaching of fish and crabs. A recent data for the first six months of this year revealed 71 violations. Among those violations included poaching of two bezoar goats near the town of Kapan in the southern Syunik Province. Three people were arrested on suspicion of killing the animals which were included in the Red Book. One of them confessed to the killing of the goats with an illegally kept rifle. Although legalized hunting is allowed in Armenia by the Ministry of Environment Protection, environmental officials say that it is the only time when poaching decreases. An environmentalist named Karine Danielyan pointed out to the condition of Lake Sevan. In her own words, the lake has become "fishless" because of years of uncontrolled fishing and poaching. She further added that the absence of fish led to decline in the lake's water quality, and it is swamping. In addition to that, it is the same problem in forests, in which the areas have declined and food sources of animals like wolves diminished and forcing them onto people's turf.
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Syrian brown bear

I'm very much appalled by this news. Here you have authorities in charge of national parks and other protected areas, who insist that the amount of poaching has reduced significantly due to "effective" measures. But on the other hand, there are environmentalists and conservationists who insist based on their studies and data they collected which show that the threat of poaching still persists. I have a feeling that Armenia is not living up to its goal in properly protecting and preserving its wildlife. I firmly believe that authorities should learn from what the environmentalists, and use those findings as a way to further enforce their actions. One of the techniques would be to identify unprotected areas known for having endangered species, and protect them. Right now, legal hunting season is currently going in Armenia. At this time, there are probably no signs of poachers or any illegal activities. But one can never be certain. Some of these individuals can be desperate, and use this time just to blend in with licensed hunters to carry out their dastardly deeds. I personally think that one of the ways to battle this would be vigilance. Locals should collaborate with environment officials, and report any suspicious activities. In addition to that, such illicit activities will affect the tourism in the country. Places like Lake Sevan consists of several popular beach resorts, and with poaching of fish and crabs, the quality of the lake will become swampy for the tourists. This is why I feel that Armenia is in a great need of help regarding its wildlife.

View article here   

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

India and Bangladesh Team Up to Save Sunderbans' Tigers

A tiger in the Sunderbans
It has recently been reported that India and Bangladesh have joined hands to save the tiger population in the Sunderbans. A latest tiger census has shown that there are around seventy animals in this remote and mysterious mangrove forest which lies between the two nations along the Ganges Delta. The agreement was a result of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Bangladesh. During his visit, Prime Minister Singh and Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina signed a five-year MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) on the Sunderbans. The two prime ministers announced that both the nations will work together closely in patrolling the waterways on each side to prevent any illegal poaching or smuggling activities of the wildlife. Sources say that this is the first major agreement between the two neighbors. According to wildlife experts, efforts to protect the Sunderbans were stalled due to the geographical divide. There was also poor communication between the two countries, which made poaching hard to prosecute in the area. People like S.B Mondal, chief wildlife warden of the Sunderbans biosphere reserve, hopes that the pact will change all of that. Others like Rajesh Gopal, director of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), stated that the agreement in repopulating Sunderbans' tigers depends on the extent to which the two nations will effectively cooperate. He further added that India and Bangladesh should also improve their management efforts on their own side.

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An illustration of a tiger dragging off a human victim. This clearly highlights the dangers of man-eating tigers in the Sunderbans. Rise in water levels forces the big cats in search of new land; often leading to human settlements where conflicts arise.

I'm very pleased and happy to see what Prime Ministers Singh and Hasina have done, in order to help the tiger population of the Sunderbans. However, I also happen to agree with observations made by Mr. Gopal. In addition to preventing any poaching activities, both nations should also bring their attention to other threats affecting the Sunderbans. These include the rise in sea levels because of global warming, and the progressive erosion that has affected over a hundred islands that make up the Sunderbans. I believe that education about the ecological importance of the Sunderbans should be imposed on the local communities. This should not only include the horrors of poaching and wildlife smuggling, but also the dangers of global warming. People living there rely on the forests for food and shelter, which is why men would venture deep into the forests to gather firewood. But in doing so, they are contributing to greenhouse gas emissions which lead to rise in water levels thus putting both their families and the wildlife in peril. And due to rise in sea levels, animals like tigers are forced to venture into human territories resulting in disastrous outcomes on either side. The Sunderbans (meaning "beautiful forest" in Hindi) has long gained notoriety for its man-eating tigers. While most of the theories in this type of behavior range from old age to inheriting instincts passed down from one generation to the next, global warming is now the new factor. This is why it is crucial to help both the tigers and people of the Sunderbans such that neither one would meet another in any would-be conflict.

View article here

Friday, September 9, 2011

Survey- Banned Livestock Drug Still Threatens India's Vultures

Two oriental white-backed vultures and a slender-billed vulture

A recent survey by conservationists has shown that a banned livestock drug that has been pushing India's vultures to the brink of extinction is still being sold. Known as diclofenac, this drug was banned because it led to population downfalls in three species of vultures in southern Asia. Most birds died as a result of kidney failure after feeding on carcasses of animals treated with this drug. A study led by Richard Cuthbert, principal conservation scientist for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), found that more than one-third of pharmacies are still selling the drug. In addition to being used in livestock, the study also found that diclofenac was being used to treat people. RSPB also said that a research conducted to examine the effectiveness the drug's banning in 2006 indicated that the oriental white-backed, long-billed, and slender-billed vultures are still at risk. According to statistics, numbers of white-backed vultures plunged by 99.9 % since 1992 from millions to 11,000, while two other species have fallen to 97 %. However, there have been some good news for vultures, in which the research found that there was an increase in another drug called meloxicam. Found in 70 % of all pharmacies in India, it has similar treatment properties for cattle. In addition to that, captive breeding centers were set up by the Bombay Natural History Society with support from RSPB and the SAVE campaign leading to success so far. A recent report showed that eighteen birds were successfully reared this year, which is almost double the number last year.
Diclofenac; the major contributor to the decline in India's vulture population

This article clearly indicates that vultures in India are still under the threat of extinction. Despite the breeding programs and with the manufacturing and selling of a harmless drug, diclofenac is still being illegally made and sold. A research published in the journal Oryx found that it was still being illegally manufactured since the ban in India, Nepal, and Pakistan. I personally believe that this should call for some drastic action, in which there should be an establishment of some police squads specializing in raiding labs suspected of manufacturing the drug. In addition to that, there should also be a community outreach program to educate people about the ecological importance of vultures and even encourage the public to collaborate with authorities in putting the end to manufacturing of diclofenac.
Vultures have played a major role in India's culture; this scene from the Ramayana shows Jatayu losing his wings when trying to save Rama's wife Sita from the main antagonist Ravana

In India, vultures have been an integral part of the culture for generations. The epic Ramayana featured two demi-gods in the form of vultures. They were brothers Jatayu and Sampati, and each were associated with stories of courage and self-sacrifice. For example, the two used to compete as to who could fly higher. And in one instance, Jatayu flew so high that he was about to get smeared by the sun. In response, his brother saved him by using his wings to create a shield against the flames. Though Jatayu was saved, Sampati was bad injured and ended up wingless for the rest of his life. But perhaps the most intriguing story revolved around Jatayu when he tried to save Lord Rama's wife Sita from the demonic king Ravana. When Sita was being abducted by Ravana, Jatayu flew to her rescue but ended up wingless and mortally wounded. Thankfully before his death, he was able to provide Rama and his brother Lakshmana in which direction Sita was being taken. The Parsi community relies on vultures during their sky burials, in which they would place the corpses on top of the Tower of Silence known as Dakhma letting the birds dispose of the dead leaving nothing but bones which would be collected in an ossuary pit at the center. This idea tells that the decline in vulture population has deeply impacted not only the environment, but the culture itself. This is why it is crucial to save them from the brink of extinction.

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Nearly 3,600 Elephant Tusks Bound for China Seized in Three Nations

Datuk Zainul Abidin Taib with a recent confiscation of elephant tusks

A recent seizure of nearly 700 elephant tusks was made at Port Klang in the Malaysian state of Selangor. The tusks were stuffed in gunny sacks marked "recycled craft plastic." Customs officials of Selangor were able to intercept and confiscate the shipment after being tipped by their counterparts in Penang. According to Datuk Zainul Abidin Taib, assistant director-general of Royal Malaysian Customs Department, the shipment was originally from Tanzania and bound for China. He further added that the tusks were packed in the same way as another one seized on August 19th in Penang. At that time, 664 tusks were concealed in a container from the U.A.E. Labeled as "used plastic," officials intercepted and seized the shipment at the Butterworth Port. The first seizure was made on July 8th when Wildlife and National Parks Department and Customs Department confiscated a container with 405 tusks declared as plywood at the Pasir Gudang Port. Although no arrests have been made, Zainul stated that investigations in all the cases will continue.
A stack of elephant tusks seized in Hong Kong

The latest seizure of elephant tusks made was one of five total seizures made over the past two months in four different nations: Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Tanzania. The first two took place primarily in Malaysia in which 405 tusks were confiscated on July 8th, while 664 from Tanzania were seized on August 19th. The third confiscation was made on August 23rd when a shipment of 1,041 tusks were seized in Zanzibar resulting in capture of two suspects. The fourth seizure was made last week in Hong Kong when officials confiscated 794 tusks on a shipment from Malaysia. As a result, nearly 3,600 ivory tusks had been seized in these three nations.
Ivory tusks seized in Zanzibar

This news clearly highlights the action taken by authorities in nations which serve as routes for the illegal trade in ivory and other animal parts. But at the same time, it is also disappointing with regard to the number of elephants killed which was estimated to be 1,800 animals. On a brighter note, the extraordinary achievements made by these nations were applauded by groups such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and TRAFFIC. Authorities like Zainul, gave credit to public in providing information. In my opinion, this is a perfect example of relationship formed between the public and authorities involved in the war against the illegal wildlife trade. However, there are also countries prone to such illegal activities but it is not known whether the public provides such valuable information to authorities or not. I personally think that these nations should follow Malaysia's example and form an alliance with their customs officials and other authorities as a way to help curb activities in the wildlife trade. This would make it difficult for the operators of this illicit and lucrative business to function their activities.

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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Tibet's Hoh Xil National Nature Reserve Under Threat of Tourism

The scenic beauty of Hoh Xil in 1997

The Hoh Xil National Nature Reserve in the Tibetan Plateau had witnessed the most momentous occasion early this year: the numbers of rare and endangered Tibetan antelopes rose to 200,000 individuals. But although this seemed like hopeful news for conservationists, it has recently been reported that a new would-be threat is now looming on the horizon: tourism. A Beijing-based brewing company called China Resources Snow Breweries had launched an adventure travel campaign that allows tourists to cross into the nature reserve. The campaign has raised concerns among environmentalists, with some saying the company is targeting commercial interest in the guise of environmental protection. One of them is Wu Zhu, an environment protection volunteer, who stated that participant recruitment was underway even though no route has been decided. Another one, Feng Yongfeng, one of the founders of Beijing's environmental protection organization Da'erwen, added that the company denied having a clear understanding of the reserves situation and ideas on how to protect its environment. According to Wang Rui of the company's marketing department, the purpose of the program is to reveal the reserve to the public as well as promoting their beer brand. She further added that a specific route is still in discussion, while the company will pick tourists who have a strong awareness about environment protection and not go to places forbidden by law.
Tibetan antelope

This article, in my opinion, gives a clear representation of how tourism can be perceived as a threat to an ecosystem. A good example is seen in Africa, where Land Rovers stocked with tourists would circle around a small patch of land because an animal is present there. This type of behavior is very stressful to not just the animal itself, but the entire wildlife making its home in the ecosystem. But the case of the Hoh Xil National Nature Reserve is different. This wondrous, yet mysterious land had a rough history dating back to the 1980s during a gold rush. At that time, lakes were dug out and such activities continued to persist. Along with mining came hunting, which decimated the Tibetan antelope population from 200,000 to fewer than 20,000 animals. Since 1998, the numbers of these magnificent antelopes gradually began to increase. But now, with this plan of domestic tourism underway, the wildlife at Hoh Xil faces an uncertain future. I believe that, in order to protect the wildlife, the reserve staff should place strict restrictions on the flow of tourism and monitor to see which tourists are not abiding by the reserve's rules. As Mr. Zhu put it, the environment withstand outside disturbance.

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Friday, September 2, 2011

Poaching Still Rampant in Northern India's Chambal Wildlife Sanctuary

National Chambal Sanctuary

Northern India is well-known for being the home of the nation's largest river: the Ganges. The river consists of several tributaries, including the Yamuna which flows by the Taj Mahal. Its surrounding region forms a vast array of vegetation, making it an ideal place to support extensive wildlife. One particular place that is renowned for housing such diversity is the National Chambal Wildlife Sanctuary. The sanctuary is named for its location by the Chambal River, a tributary of the Yamuna. It even houses rare and endangered species such as the Indian gavial, the red-crowned roofed turtle, and the Ganges River dolphin. But this paradise on earth is under tremendous threat of poaching that has constantly been taking toll of the wildlife. A recent report about a murder of a police officer near the town of Bhareh in Etawah district linked to the ongoing poaching activities. The victim, police driver Uday Pratap, was posted at the Chakar Nagar police station along with officer Dinesh Chandra Srivastava, when a gang of poachers from the city of Sawai Madhopur in Rajasthan suddenly jumped out. Officer Pratap died at the scene, while Officer Srivastava was critically wounded.
The Indian gavial; one of the keystone species in the sanctuary

According to Rajiv Chauhan, secretary of the Society For Conservation of Nature, poachers have been actively conducting their grisly activities for the past 6-8 years due to the diversity in the fauna. He further added that local farmers would hire members of Rajasthan's Mongiya tribe to kill antelopes called blue bulls, known locally as "nilgai" (blue cow), which destroy their crops. But instead, the members target other animals like jackal, sambar deer, spotted deer, and wild boar. One wildlife enthusiast even added that they are infamous for killing tigers in Rajasthan. Mr. Chauhan also pointed that poor monitoring of wildlife is the main reason behind farmers hiring these tribals, who resort to killing rare animals and birds in the region. Many members are part of a well-organized network of poachers who work secretly. They include hunters belonging to the notorious Kanjar and Mallah tribes from towns like Pirahat in Agra, and Gyanpura and Bansari in Etawah district.
The red-crowned roofed turtle; one of several critically endangered species

This article clearly highlights the dark side of northern India. For generations, the region was often regarded as dangerous and inhospitable. To any western visitor, it would be perceived as an Indian equivalent of the Wild West. The region was remote and desolate with hilly, forested areas and deep ravines providing perfect cover and shelter to bandits known by the locals as dacoits. Just like the outlaws of the Wild West, these prolific individuals terrorized the local communities through robbery. Many rode on horseback and carried firearms. In fact, the word dacoity means "armed robbery." They were even romanticized in popular culture, most notably in the Bollywood blockbuster Sholay. But in reality, it was a different story. Most gang members hailed from local tribes native to the region. Some like the Kanjar, were notorious for engaging in criminal activities such as kidnapping, theft, and prostitution.
The Ganges River dolphin; a keystone species

But these people also took their brazen acts of violence to a whole new level by poaching. And in northern India, their criminal activities have been running amok over the years due to lack of proper wildlife monitoring. I personally feel that the National Chambal Wildlife Sanctuary has not been getting the attention required to a protected area under critical action. Poaching has been going on for eight years, and any further activity will bring the local wildlife closer and closer to the brink of extinction. Authorities really need to step up to the plate in protecting both the wildlife and the local villagers, as these people are also hardcore criminals to the core. They will, when given a chance, come bursting into a house and hold the family hostage before taking off with their valuables or kill any wild creature local to the sanctuary for profit.

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