Thursday, December 27, 2012

Indian One-Horned Rhinos to Regain Former Habitat in the Terai

Indian one-horned rhinoceros

It has been recently reported that the Terai Arc, which was once a prime habitat for Indian one-horned rhinos, is transforming into a rehabilitation zone for the species. The declaration of the turning this region into a habitat for rhinos is part of the Rhino Reintroduction Programme in Dudhwa National Park. The main goal of this program is to bring rhinos from outside the national park to investigate inbreeding. The process includes bringing six rhinos from Assam's Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary. According to field director Shailesh Prasad, six young rhinos with four females and two males would be introduced. He further added that the state government of Uttar Pradesh is in the final phases of finishing procedural formalities of acquirement. In addition, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has also given its approval and project is slated to begin early next year. The first phase of the program occurred in the mid-1980s, in which six rhinos were reintroduced in Dudhwa National Park from Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary and the Royal Chitwan National Park. The animals were released inside a 27-square kilometer area in the national park. It has been recently found that male rhino calves born in that area were driven out of the area by a dominant founder male who happened to be their father. However, due to the lack of space to escape mutual conflicts, male rhinos end up going out of the fenced-in area thus prompting the program to propose a second phase: covering an area of ninety square kilometers for the rhinos. Prasad also pointed out that there is a necessary need to introduce some other male rhinos with a different genetic base. He also added that a new area to prevent any infighting among them.
A map showing the historic range (pink) and current range (green) of the Indian rhinoceros.

I'm very happy to see that rhinos are returning to their former habitat in northern India ever since the reintroduction from the mid-1980s. The Terai region of northern India was once their ancestral home 200 years ago. However, threats such as overhunting and habitat destruction had contributed to their demise and prompting reintroduction efforts. Now, those efforts are going to be further implemented in the region allowing the current population to further increase. I believe that animals that were once extinct in some parts of India and thriving in other parts of the country should also be reintroduced the same way. For example, the tiger was once seen throughout the thick forests of East and South Gujarat but decades of hunting and habitat loss pushed it to extinction. Today, the tiger thrives only in the central, northern, northeastern, and southern parts of India where it has continued to thrive. Therefore, I feel it would be useful to reintroduce it back in its former homeland of East and South Gujarat where it once reigned supreme. In addition, the Indian wild dog, the gaur (Indian bison), and the elephant were also once endemic to that region before being eradicated. If these animals are reintroduced back to their former habitats in Gujarat, it would help in revitalizing the state's biodiversity. Elephant numbers in some parts of northern, northeast, and southern India have increased so dramatically, that there have been several cases of human-elephant conflicts. This is why I feel that part of the effort to minimize such conflicts would be to reintroduce some numbers of elephants in South Gujarat, where they once roamed before the nineteenth century. If rhinos in northeast India have managed to increase to sizable populations and be reintroduced in parts of their historic range, so can other animals.

View article here

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

China's Finless Porpoises in Decline

A Yangtze River porpoise

A recent survey has found that China's finless porpoises are in peril. The six-week survey was carried out along the middle and lower stretches of the Yangtze River, and concluded that fishing, pollution, and other man-made activities are driving the porpoises to extinction. The final results of the survey are expected to be announced in March 2013. However, the initial findings are of tremendous concern: The team found fewer than half of the porpoises that were seen during a similar journey in 2006, which discovered 1,225 porpoises. According to Wang Ding, the survey's chief scientist and ecologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institution of Hydrobiology (IHB), the news is devastating. The survey also discovered that a population of 450 porpoises in the Poyang Lake has been constant in the past six years, but only ninety of the animals remained in the adjoining Dongting Lake. This indicates that the Yangtze finless porpoise population has decreased by forty percent since 2006. Furthermore, this figure also means that the total number of finless porpoises in the Yangtze River basin is around 1,000-- making them rarer than giant pandas. Ding stated that overfishing has led to major decline in the porpoises' prey sources. In addition, the animals themselves are exposed to uncontrolled fishing methods such as electrofishing which involves sending electric currents into the water to stun the fish. David Dudgeon, an ecologist at the University of Hong Kong, added that pollution poses another threat to the porpoises with about twenty billion tonnes of waste being released into the Yangtze each year. Moreover, high levels of noise pollution due to shipping interfere with the animals' sonar resulting in deaths by ship strikes. Other man-made activities include building of dams, land reclamation, and sand dredging which have also contributed to significant habitat loss and degradation for the porpoises in recent decades.
Population of this finless porpoise is currently estimated to be around 1,000.

This article clearly represents that urgent action is needed to save China's wildlife. A recent study by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has found that China is diminishing its ecological resources too quickly. Among the animals deeply affected are the Yangtze River porpoises. These freshwater relatives of dolphins and porpoises once numbered about 1,225 in 2006. However, that same year, it had also been confirmed that the Yangtze River dolphin was declared effectively extinct. The Yangtze River porpoises are the only surviving species of freshwater marine mammals left in China's waters. As long as overfishing, pollution, and other man-made threats continue, they will meet the same fate as the river dolphin. Therefore, it is absolutely essential to conduct serious measures to ensure the survival of these magnificent creatures. This includes better coercion of waste-discharge controls, reduction of boat traffic, and restricting the use of fishing equipment or even introducing a ban on fishing. The Yangtze River has long been regarded by the Chinese people as the "mother river." However, the river's banks are lined with large cities, factories, and power plants making it susceptible to pollution and other environmental threats. Which is why urgent action should be undertaken to prevent the river and its life from being further degraded.

View article here

CITES Accepts Security Council's Demand for Action on LRA-related Elephant Poaching

Top: Conference scene involving members of CITES and the United Nations. Bottom left: A member of the LRA. Bottom right: LRA members and a poached elephant carcass.

It has been recently announced that the head of a treaty supported by the United Nations for endangered species conservation has accepted the Security Council's demand for an inspection into the involvement of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in the poaching of African elephants. According to John E. Scanlon, Secretary-General of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), the historic demand strengthens concerns about the connections between the illegal wildlife trafficking and Africa's regional security. He further added that the CITES Secretariat is prepared to work with its associates to reinforce efforts to inspect the involvement of LRA's rebel militias in crimes against wildlife. In an authoritative statement announced last week, the Security Council demanded the United Nations and the African Union to cooperatively inspect the LRA's logistical patchworks and likely sources of illegal financing, which includes reputed involvement in elephant poaching and affiliated smuggling.
Flag of the LRA

According to a CITES news release, some African countries are currently experiencing a serious surge in illicit killing of elephants and rhinos and the trade in ivory and horns. Data assembled from the CITES' Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) program proposes a continuous increase in levels of elephant killings since 2006, with 2011 having the highest levels of poaching since the records began in 2002. These discoveries are backed by information from the Elephant Trade Information System, which proves that 2011 was the worst year on record for ivory seizures. Furthermore, the bloodthirsty killings of elephants are progressively involving organized crime and in some cases armed militias. One case was seen earlier this year in Cameroon's Bouba N'Djida National Park, where up to 450 elephants were ruthlessly slaughtered by rebel groups from Chad and Sudan. According to CITES, the poached ivory is considered to be exchanged ammunition, money, and weapons to support civil conflicts in the neighboring countries. Another similar case took place in April this year at Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in which 22 elephants were killed supposedly from a helicopter.

I'm glad to see that the UN Security Council's call for investigating the LRA's involvement in Africa's elephant poaching has been welcomed by CITES. The LRA has gained widespread notoriety in Africa and around the world since its formation in Uganda during the 1980s. For fifteen years, this militant movement has carried out attacks against innocent civilians and security forces before being removed from its birthplace in 2002. Since then, the movement shifted its activities to neighboring countries like the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan. Members of this barbaric group are infamous for conducting bloodthirsty deeds such as massacres in villages, mutilating their victims, kidnapping young boys to be used as child soldiers, and forcing girls into sexual slavery. As part of its statement last week, the Security Council strongly outlawed LRA's continuous attacks and savagery, and proposed that the UN regional strategy made to combat the threat be put into action as soon as possible. I very much hope that this strategy be carried out since the LRA has been and still is terrorizing the countries where it has established itself since its eviction from Uganda ten years ago. These cruel and bloodthirsty cutthroats, along with their rebel counterparts in other parts of Africa, are a threat to both the human kind and wildlife. Swift action must be taken against this ongoing carnage.

View article here

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Criminal Syndicates Have Major Advantage in Illegal Wildlife Trade

A recent report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has warned that international governments are incapable or reluctant to pace with activities operated by sophisticated criminal syndicates, thus allowing the illegal wildlife trade to rapidly extend. One of the examples highlighted in this report include the poaching of rhinos in South Africa which has bolstered from about twenty per year to an anticipated 600 in 2012. Several issues have endowed to this growth, but the most important factor is the surge in demand. The demand of rhino horns has swelled in Asian countries such as China and Vietnam due to the belief of their use in traditional medicines. This has resulted to prices of a single horn to being as high as approximately $600,000 while the ground version is worth an estimated $100,000 per kilo. In addition to rhinos, other endangered species have also become subject to this ongoing catastrophe. According to Peter Wittig, a U.N ambassador from Germany, 23 metric tons of elephant ivory-- a figure representing 2,500 elephants killed-- was confiscated in 2011. Overall, the report identifies the illegal wildlife trade to be worth about $19 billion per year making it fourth largest illegal international trade next to counterfeiting, human trafficking, and narcotics. One of the reasons that the illegal wildlife trade has been able to flourish is due to its use of the existent international narcotics chain. Much of the income is used to fund civil wars, obtain weapons, and sponsor terrorism-related activities.
A white rhinoceros in South Africa's Entabeni Wildlife Conservancy.
African elephant

Since most governments view the wildlife trade and poaching as a conservation issue and not an international criminal matter, addressing it was not a priority. This, as a result, made the illegal wildlife trade a force to be reckoned with. The recognition persuaded U.S Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to advance the wildlife trade from a conservation issue to a national security threat. In response, the WWF held a conference at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City last week. At the briefing, the WWF and wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC commanded governments to treat the wildlife trade as equal to other forms of corruption, money laundering, and trafficking. The two organizations also claimed that wildlife trafficking presents a promising threat to national authority.
Ivory tusks confiscated

I believe that this article should be taken as a wake-up call for governments all around the world to focus their attentions on tackling the illegal wildlife trade. In addition to claiming lives of endangered species worldwide, this ongoing threat also finances other illicit activities such as funding civil conflicts in places like Africa and sponsoring terrorism. Therefore, it is absolutely crucial that governments should lend their support in helping national and international organizations specializing in protecting the world's wildlife to combat the wildlife trade. The WWF is now using new technologies in an effort to battle this threat. One recent method is the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to search large areas for poachers. The WWF hopes that this technique will eventually function as an obstacle, and extend its use in Africa and Asia after a $5 million grant from Google. However, this does not mean that the illegal wildlife trade has been brought to its knees. Like the WWF and federal authorities, poachers and other operators of the wildlife trade have resorted to advanced technology in order to carry out their gruesome deeds. These include use of automatic weapons, helicopters, and night vision goggles. This is why the WWF, TRAFFIC, and other such organizations should team up with governments and their agencies around the world to take down criminal syndicates operating the illegal wildlife trade.
A cheetah in Dubai; victim of the exotic pet trade.

With good news for conservationists like the recent discovery of 126 new species in the Greater Mekong Area, poachers are sure to invade the area of discovery to target whatever species of animals present. If this means butchering them mercilessly for use in traditional Chinese medicine or selling them as exotic pets to consumers worldwide, so be it. Major cities like Dubai, have become a hotbed for the exotic pet trade leading to uneasiness amongst its residents. The illegal wildlife trade has joined forces with other forms of international crimes like narcotics trafficking, and benefiting similar factions like terrorism placing both people and animals in a state of global peril. It is time that the world realized that the illegal wildlife trade is an international criminal issue, and not just a conservation-related matter. The clock is ticking before the next animal or person becomes a victim of this global illicit business.

View article here

Friday, November 30, 2012

Local Groups in North Carolina Fear for the Safety of Red Wolves

A red wolf in its enclosure at North Carolina's Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge

It has been recently reported that local groups in the state of North Carolina are headed to court, striving to repeal a newly-passed rule that allows hunting of coyotes during nighttime. The groups fear that the hunting is having a harmful effect on the struggling population of red wolves in the state. Part of the concern is that the wolves' appearance is very similar to coyotes. In addition, recent genetic research suggests that the red wolf may even be a hybrid between a wolf and a coyote. According to Michael Stoskopf, a clinical sciences professor, it is difficult even for an experienced wolf biologist to identify a red wolf even with a good look. The hunting, which combines the use of spotlights and animal calls, enables hunters to easily bait animals into the firing range. The light confuses the animals, providing the hunters with an easy shot. The decision to overturn the rule of nighttime hunting came when the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced two news releases regarding two red wolves that had been shot and killed in the past few months. One wolf was killed just a month after the ruling was passed in Tyrrell County, and another was killed a month later in Beaufort County. Stoskopf stated that coyote hunting in North Carolina is a "very politically-charged issue." He further added that despite the successes of efforts in recovering the red wolves in the past ten years, there is always a major concern of increased deficits of breeding age animals. Sherry Samuels, treasurer for the Red Wolf Coalition, stated that it would be "great for this night hunting to go away in the five-county area."
A red wolf on the run

I very much feel the same way as these groups regarding the plight of red wolves in North Carolina. These unique animals bear a striking resemblance to coyotes, which can easily confuse hunters. However, these wolves are an intermediate in size between the coyote and the wolf. Their name derives from the reddish-brown fur on their heads, and their coat color which is a mixture of brown, buff, cinnamon, and tawny. Coyotes also share similar coat colors, and this is what results in the case of mistaken identity. The red wolf population in North America is currently about 100, with majority of animals living in a protected area in the eastern part of North Carolina. If the hunting of coyotes in the state continues, then there will be more reported deaths of red wolves. Therefore, it is absolutely crucial that coyote hunting in the area where these wolves roam be disallowed so that recovery efforts continue to bolster up the red wolf population.

View article here

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Interpol Trains West African Wildlife Officers to Target Poachers

African elephants

It has been recently announced that Interpol has given out facts about a successful completion of a six-day training session for wildlife officers across Africa. This session involved twenty officers from ten West African countries being educated in how to "conduct strategic wildlife law enforcement inspections." The main motive for this training was to outfit the officers so they could return to their home countries "with the knowledge and skills required to plan for a coordinated transnational operation in the upcoming months." The session was held at Interpol's regional headquarters in the city of Abidjan in Ivory Coast. The training was financed by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), and was initiated in partnership with Environment Canada and the French Gendarmerie Nationale. The officers who participated in this course came from Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia, and Senegal. One officer was from the Lusaka Agreement Task Force. The course was conducted under Project WISDOM, an Interpol operation designed to protect elephants and rhinos from poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. Interpol hopes that those officers who have finished the course will have been able to make very important alliances with each other to enable them to cooperate on a regional level on a continuous basis.
A group of white rhinos

I also very much hope that these officers, who had participated in this training session will work side by side in an effort to diminish any poaching activities. This is especially true for the rhino population in South Africa, which has recently been further reduced down to 588 animals. This current figure clearly indicates that the bloodbath is still expanding in the country and the surrounding region. In addition, elephants across Africa are continuously suffering in the hands of poachers and other operators of the illegal wildlife trade. I also feel that wildlife officers from other African countries should undergo a similar training, so that more alliances would be made in order to capture and prosecute poachers in the continent. Furthermore, forest officers should also form partnerships with other authorities like the military and local police forces when battling this ongoing crisis. The poaching of elephants, rhinos, and other African wildlife is a never-ending. As long as it continues, Africa's tourist industry would be greatly affected and this in turn would result in a chain reaction affecting the local economies that had benefited because of tourism. Therefore, it is absolutely essential to fight in order to preserve and protect Africa's biodiversity.

View article here

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Rhino Poacher Admits to Militants' Involvement in Assam

A dead rhinoceros in Kaziranga National Park

The Kaziranga National Park in northeast India had been hit by monsoon floods in June this year, forcing wild animals to escape the rising waters and into the bloodthirsty hands of poachers. Since then, more than 700 animals have perished and more carcasses are turning up as water levels recede. But now, there is another greater threat that is targeting Kaziranga's wildlife, especially rhinos: Armed militant separatist forces in the area. The news about militants' involvement came when an arrested rhino poacher named Lindok Rongpi admitted before a magistrate that he killed six rhinos under the orders of Songja Timung, a supposed defense secretary of the Kuki National Liberation Front, a militant group based in Assam's Karbi Anglong district. His arrest led the police to the town of Dimapur in Nagaland, the center of illegal wildlife trade, only to discover that a Chinese buyer named Ho-Chin had fled.
A market scene in Dimapur, a center of illegal wildlife trade.

The threat of militancy to Assam's wildlife is nothing new. In the 1980s, Laokhowa Sanctuary, a wildlife sanctuary near Kaziranga, was completely eradicated of its rhino population intentionally by the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA). Manas National Park lost its status as a World Heritage Site after the Bodo militancy annihilated its wildlife. With a host of armed militants in Karbi Anglong and with proof of their involvement in recent poaching cases, it is likely that Kaziranga could be in similar danger. By poaching Assam's rhinos, the militants make money which they use to buy firearms. A post-mortem of the animals disclosed the use of automatic guns which provided further evidence about the militants' involvement, considering professional poachers .303 rifles instead of spraying bullets. These threats are associated by the way rhinos are being poached. In several cases, wildlife officials found that rhinos were dehorned even while alive. This is done when a poacher would cut off the rhino's horn while it recovered after being shot by a gun. In one case, an ear was hacked off leaving the rhino to bleed to death. In the last two weeks, police have so far seized one AK-56, two .303 rifles, and one SBML (single barrel muzzle loading) gun along with recovery of bullets from automatic weapons.
Rhino mortality data

It is utterly shocking to find that separatist militant groups have and still are a major threat to India's wildlife. In addition, these ruthless cutthroats have ties to the illegal wildlife trade in which they make their money off poaching so that they can purchase firearms to carry out their carnage against innocent civilians. This situation in northeast India can easily be compared to Africa, where the poaching of elephants is funding militias and rebel groups with their wars. This article paints a clear picture of why poaching in India should be taken seriously because not only would it result in loss of animal lives, but also civilian lives. However, even with the enhancement of security measures in key rhino poaching hotspots like South Africa, the threat of poaching and the price of rhino horns has also increased. A report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) stated that Kaziranga National Park is vulnerable to poaching due to its nearness to India's border with China. This is why I believe that Kaziranga and every other national park and wildlife sanctuary in India must be heavily guarded not just by wildlife authorities, but also the military. Poaching in India and other parts of the world like Africa are often militant-affiliated, which makes the battle more complicated and requires the use of military power against such threats.

View article here

Monday, October 15, 2012

DNA Proves that Ethiopia's Lions are Genetically Distinct

An Ethiopian lion

It has been recently found that a pride of captive lions descended from the ones owned by Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia are genetically distinct from other lions in Africa. The Ethiopian lion is characterized by a unique dark mane and is slightly smaller and more compact than other lions. Now, a DNA analysis has disclosed that it is also a distinct species. According to Dr. Michael York of the University of York, fifteen of the twenty lions in the Addis Ababa Zoo have shown to be a separate genetic group based on the DNA tests. He further added that the male individuals are the direct descendents of a group of seven lions and two lionesses captured from the wild for Emperor Selassie's zoo in 1948. In addition, these are the last remaining lions in the world to acquire such a distinctive dark mane. The two lions that shared a similar dark mane were the Barbary lion of North Africa and the Cape lion of South Africa, which are now extinct. Susann Bruche, the lead author of this study published in the European Journal of Wildlife Research, stated that it is crucial to preserve the genetic diversity of the Ethiopian lions in order to help the species as a whole.

I'm very much astounded by this discovery that Ethiopia's lions are genetically distinct from other lions in Africa. However, at the same time, I also feel it is extremely vital to conserve this species since its two dark-maned counterparts are already extinct. I think the Ethiopian lion is unique in a sense that it already possesses the dark mane upon reaching adulthood. Other lions also have dark manes, but their manes are usually lighter in color and turn dark as they age older. This could be the major difference between Ethiopian lions and other lions in Africa. With the disappearance of Barbary and Cape lions in the wilds of Africa during the 19th and 20th centuries, the Ethiopian lion is the only dark-maned lion left in the world. I very much hope that intensive efforts will be undertaken to ensure the survival of this newly distinct species, and prevent it from becoming extinct like its North and South African relatives.

View article here

Monday, October 8, 2012

Ganges River Dolphin Numbers Go Up in Uttar Pradesh

Ganges River dolphin

It has been recently announced by the latest Ganges River dolphin census that numbers of this magnificent dolphin have increased in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The numbers have risen from 600 animals in 2005, to 671. This was the first single biggest three-day census of river dolphins conducted by the state forest department, World Wildlife Fund-India, and eighteen other NGOs. The report was released on Sunday by chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, who applauded the efforts being taken to conserve the dolphins through a campaign titled "My Ganga, My Dolphin." These efforts which led to the rise in dolphin population in some stretches of the Ganges River will be followed at other places too where there are dolphins. The census has given the first baseline data on the dolphins, and stretches like Upper Ganges have recorded good numbers. It counted the number of dolphins present across the 2,800 stretch of the Ganges and its tributaries of Betwa, Gerua, Ghagra, Ken, Son, and Yamuna. In 2005, 600 dolphins were recorded in Uttar Pradesh.

I'm very happy to see that river dolphin numbers in Uttar Pradesh have increased. At the same time, I'm also proud to see the efforts being undertaken to conserve the animals' population. This has led to rise in dolphin numbers in the Upper Ganges. However, it has been said in the article that the efforts will also be put into action in other parts of the Ganges River in order to determine the state of the dolphin population in those areas. One example of conducting these efforts has been recently reported in the city of Patna, where the state government has decided to set up a dolphin watching point. In my opinion, I think this would be very useful for World Wildlife Fund-India and other NGOs active in India's river dolphin conservation to carry out their measurements.

View article here

Friday, October 5, 2012

Assam Sends Elite Force to Protect Kaziranga National Park's Rhinos

A dead rhino in Kaziranga National park

It has been recently reported that the government of Assam has decided to send a hundred-member team of the elite Assam Forest Protection Force (AFPF) to protect rhinos in Kaziranga National Park. According to Assam forest minister Rockybul Hussain, a fifty-member team of the AFPF had already been sent to the national park on Tuesday. He further added that another fifty-member troop will be deployed into Kaziranga within this week. Minister Hussain also affirmed that a total of 39 rhinos have died in Assam due to monsoon floods and poaching. Eleven rhinos had died as a result of poaching, which included six inside the national park and five in the adjoining Karbi Anglong district where they had migrated because of floods. Another 28 animals died from drowning in the floods. The deaths of Assam's rhinos came into focus recently when after seven rhinos were killed by suspected poachers last week in and around Kaziranga.

I'm very impressed and proud to see what the government of Assam is doing, in order to keep its rhinos and other wildlife safe. But what fascinated me about this article is the story behind the efforts the state government of Assam took to save its rhinos. In the past three years, Assam had witnessed a series of rhino killings which prompted the government to entail a CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) investigation into all the cases of poaching. The government also announced that the army and central paramilitary forces will be dispatched in the neighboring areas of Kaziranga National Park to block any poaching attempts. In addition to that, better forest management and protection also contributed to the well-being of rhinos. Their population has increased to 2,290 animals in Kaziranga alone and 2,505 in Assam. However, these success stories also brought accusations from parties like the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who tried to bring the issue of bad forest management into the light which Minister Hussain refuted. He also condemned allegations brought by these two parties that the state government is helping illegal migrants to settle inside the national park's buffer zone to increase the Congress votebank. In his own words, Minister Hussain stated that in 1996, under the leadership of then chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, the AGP gave out an order to settle 96 landless families in those areas. In my opinion, Assam is a leading example of how conservation and wildlife protection should be implemented in India and other countries prone to crimes like poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. The involvement of military and paramilitary forces would help tremendously in the battle against these ongoing threats to wildlife around the world.

View article here

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Africa's Religious Leaders Team Up to Help Stop the Illegal Wildlife Trade

Religious leaders gather for an interfaith prayer at the site of ivory burn in Nairobi National Park.

It has been recently reported that the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) have announced their first-ever partnership with religious leaders from across Africa to join forces against the illegal wildlife trade. In an exceptional move, fifty religious representatives from different religions and countries have allied to authorize a ban on the wildlife trade which is destroying the continent's elephant and rhino populations. The WWF and ARC have worked with leaders from Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and traditional African faiths to align around the wildlife crisis in Africa and conducted several meetings. These included a safari in Kenya's Nairobi National Park during which the leaders discussed the purpose of religion in Africa to put a stop to the ongoing threat. The leaders gave an emotional tribute to all the wildlife killed because of the trade, and also prayed for the amenity of the local communities and for hundreds of rangers that have sacrificed their lives protecting Africa's wildlife.
An elephant herd in Tsavo East National Park.

I'm very much impressed to see that religious leaders in Africa have joined in the battle to combat the illegal wildlife trade. In my opinion, this would persuade and motivate local communities to step forward in this effort to put an end to this continuous bloodbath. According to Dekila Chungyalpa, program director of WWF's Sacred Earth, religious leaders are the "backbone of local communities, providing lessons and guidance that shape how people live their lives." However, she also pointed out that poaching of endangered wildlife is a "highly organized crime backed by international syndicates who also back other crimes such as gun and drug trafficking." She further added that victims also include rangers and local communities, as well as animals. This statement relates to why Africa's militias and rebel groups rely on the wildlife trade to fund their wars. It is also why it is extremely crucial to combat the illegal wildlife trade around the world. Not only does this illicit and lucrative trade claim lives of animals, but also innocent people. In addition to that, there is also news that the South African government is calling its people to help in the battle against the nation's rhino poaching. The only way to help put a stop to poaching and the illegal wildlife trade is to involve communities to join the battle, as well as government officials, NGO officials, and other authorities.

View article here

Friday, September 21, 2012

Jammu and Kashmir to Raise Kashmir Stag in Captive Breeding Center

The Kashmir stag or hangul

It has been recently reported that the government of Jammu and Kashmir has made a decision to raise the endangered Kashmir stag, locally known as hangul, in a captive breeding center to reverse its decline in population. The plan came into action after India's vice president Mohammad Hamid Ansari visited Dachigam National Park, the last home of this endangered species of deer. According to divisional forest officer Rashid Naqash, a captive breeding center will be inaugurated for the breeding of the deer at Shikargah, Tral (south of Kashmir) under the Species Recovery Program. He further added that a long-term conservation plan was being enforced with the support of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. Similarly, a habitat research study has been introduced in partnership with the agricultural university for satellite collaring of the deer in order to understand its movement pattern and habitat, both inside and outside Dachigam National Park. Naqash also stated that an important research program has been implemented to study the population of the Kashmir stag outside the national park in partnership with the Wildlife Trust of India.

I'm very proud to see what the government of Jammu and Kashmir is doing, in order save one of its most magnificent species of wildlife found nowhere else in India but in the state itself. The Kashmir stag, an only subspecies of the magnificent and majestic red deer in the Indian Subcontinent, is a critically endangered species listed in the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES). During the 1940s, its population decreased tremendously due to poaching for its meat, skin, and antlers. By 1989, the population fell to 900 animals from 3000. Furthermore, numbers plummeted to below 200 as militants and the army battled each other in the forests. However, officials disclosed that as per the 2011 census, the number of the Kashmir stag recorded was 218. Now, the state of Jammu and Kashmir has taken the initiative of reviving the population of the Kashmir stag with the establishment of a captive breeding center. This way, the deer will be reintroduced in the wild further increasing its population. I also hope that as part of the initiative, the state government will also launch intensive efforts to protect the Kashmir stag from poaching and other threats.

View article here

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Center for Environment Education Engages Children to Save the Ganges River Dolphin

Children in Assam holding up signs and banners aimed at saving Ganges River dolphins.

It has been recently reported that the Center for Environment Education (CEE) has turned to school children in an effort to spread awareness about the highly endangered Ganges River dolphin through a "Dolphin Mela" being organized at the Vikas Bhawan auditorium in Etawah district. The Dolphin Mela, which is organized by the CEE North in association with the Society for Conservation of Nature and Social Forestry division of Etawah and as part of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests' ongoing Gangetic River Dolphin Conservation Education Program, will have participation of students and teachers from 22 schools located within the adjacency of Chambal River. According to District Forest Officer Manik Chandra Yadav, the event will consist of activities such as poster-making, environmental quiz, slogan-writing, and even watching a film focusing on awareness among the locals. The mela has been arranged to accentuate the need to conserve the Ganges River dolphin, which also resides in the Brahmaputra River as well as in the Ganges, Karnaphuli, and Meghna Rivers. It is also said that students will be taken to some well-known dolphin sites along the Chambal River. There, they will be taught on how to increase the aquatic animal's count. The goal of the mela is to sharpen students towards urging their elders to help protect the dolphin.
Ganges River dolphin

I'm extremely proud and touched by this news. This article clearly highlights why it is essential to recruit younger members of the society to become involved in the efforts to save and protect endangered species around the world. The Ganges River dolphin is one of India's most highly endangered species that has suffered tremendously from threats ranging from pollution to fishing. With an event like the Dolphin Mela underway, the animal looks like it is facing a bright future. This event, in particular, is taking place in the Chambal River region. I'm also surprised to see that a similar event has been taking place in a region around the Brahmaputra River. But I'm not sure if it is taking place in other regions where these dolphins are known to live. This is why I hope that people living in other regions across India that are also frequented by dolphins will also participate in the effort. I also firmly believe that what these students are doing should be taken as both an inspiration and initiative for other children to join the battle to help save endangered species in other parts of the world. The world needs more and more people to participate in this ongoing battle to protect and conserve the wildlife, and children are among the ideal candidates in order spread this message of awareness.

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Africa's Elephant Slaughter Funds Militias and Rebels

African elephant

The ongoing slaughter of Africa's elephants has been profiting the black markets of Asia in recent times. But now, this never-ending plague is benefiting another most powerful and bloodthirsty enemy: Africa's militias and rebel groups. In addition to financing Asian markets, the ivory tusks have also been bringing large sums to fund wars across Africa. Even more troubling is that many game wardens do not stand a chance against this massacre. Around 500,000 elephants live in Africa in present day, but several tens of thousands are killed each year by poachers and that number is still rising. While poachers are typically linked to the continuing bloodbath, new and more brutal players have entered the illicit business. They are militia members and rebel groups, who massacre these jumbo-sized creatures with heavy firearms to finance their wars. These groups include Somalia's militant Islamist al-Shabab, the ruthless Janjaweed of Sudan, and the infamous Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda who are turning the elephants' Central African savanna habitat into killing fields. Earlier this month, the New York Times wrote that ivory is now "fueling conflicts across the continent" the way diamonds once did in Sierra Leone. Tom Cardamone, an expert on the illegal ivory trade, testified at a U.S Senate hearing this May, saying that militias, organized crime syndicates, and even terrorist elements picked up on the profits made in the illegal trade of wildlife. As a result, this generated a spike in the industry's scale and posed serious concerns regarding national security for the United States and its partners.
Members of the Islamist al-Shabab of Somalia are involved in the ongoing slaughter of Africa's elephants.

While most game wardens are overwhelmed by the poaching of elephants which happens to be backed by militias and rebel groups, the situation appeared to be different in one case where eight game wardens from the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) who spent several hours lying in wait between bushes and tree trunks. The wardens were tipped by an informant, who told them that poachers would show up at a particular spot in Tsavo East National Park sometime in the afternoon. When the poachers appeared, a fierce gunfight broke out lasting forty minutes. The fight resulted in leaving one Somali poacher dead, and five others in retreat with some who were injured. The significance of this incident was that these game wardens responded swiftly to a call about poachers arriving at a certain spot, and were able to show up there on time before the poachers did. In addition to that, the wardens did not suffer any losses during the attack. This indicates that the eight wardens most likely belong to a team of 3,500 game wardens led by one man, who does not feel threatened by the guerrilla leaders of such groups: KWS Director Julius Kipng'etich. After losing seven of his men to poachers this year, Kipng'etich recently issued a shoot-to-kill order which explains the success of a recent skirmish carried out by those eight game wardens. In addition to that, Kipng'etich also mobilized his troops with all-terrain vehicles, helicopters, and laboratory equipment in dealing with these militias and rebels. This is especially crucial near the Somali border, where al-Shabab warlords commit raiding parties into Kenya increasing the chances to hunt elephants. Al-Shabab, which is notorious for fighting against the government of Somalia, also ships stolen ivory to Asian markets since it controls the port city of Kismayo which is known to be a major center for drugs and weapons.
A Janjaweed militiaman on horseback.

In an area around Gulu in northern Uganda, elephants have become extinct as a result of being brutally annihilated by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). One of its members, 25-year-old Joseph Okot, was a child soldier for the LRA and was forced to hunt elephants in Murchison Falls National Park. He stated that the meat was destined for soldiers, while their commanders had possession of the tusks. This terrorist group is running amok in a region where the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan coincide. The area also has no government controls. Deserters of the group have frequently reported that they were personally reported by their leader Joseph Kony to poach elephants. This April, game wardens in Congo's Garamba National Park stole back a few elephant tusks from a group of LRA soldiers. In June, they caught another group red-handed but had to retreat when the guerrillas opened fire on them. The LRA keeps strong connections with Sudan's largest city Omdurman, where dealers trade elephant tusks for ammunition and weapons. However, it is also possible to ship ivory through Congo, Uganda, or Kenya, where customs officials are often poorly paid or easily bribed.
Flag of the Lord's Resistance Army

According to elephant expert and government adviser Michael Wamithi, the war over Africa's elephants began with a political mistake. In 1989, the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) banned the global trade of ivory. Once the convention served its purpose, the elephant population recovered. But as a result, innumerable amounts of tusks began heaping together in storerooms of game wardens including those of animals that had died of natural causes. In 2008, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe acquired special permits allowing their governments to sell 108 tons of ivory to China and Japan. However, the appetite for more ivory returned immediately thus fueling the demand and the slaughter began. The killing of elephants reached a brutal peak earlier this year when poachers massacred 350 elephants in Cameroon's Bouba Ndjida National Park. The four game wardens who were overseeing the park, which covers an area nearly the size of the German state of Saarland, did not stand a chance. All they could was look on as soldiers on horseback, armed with AK-47 rifles, poured into the park. None of them were captured, but the wardens believed they were members of the Janjaweed. Wamithi and most other elephant conservationists demanded that the only way to save elephants in the long term was by urgently reintroducing the 1989 trade ban.
Since the ban on the ivory trade in 1989, innumerable amounts of tusks have been piling up in storerooms like this one.

I'm utterly shocked and mortified by this news. Not only is Africa's elephant slaughter fueling the demand of ivory in China and Thailand, but is also funding wars orchestrated by several militias and rebel groups in the continent. These include groups like the Janjaweed, who were responsible for the horrific genocide of thousands of civilians in Sudan's Darfur region. This clearly indicates that the threat of poaching and the illegal wildlife trade is not just claiming lives of wild animals, but also helping in the taking of lives of innocent civilians. In my opinion, this should be taken as a wake-up call for governments all around the world and not just Africa to step up their efforts in the battle against the illegal wildlife trade. In addition to that, these militias and rebel groups must be dealt with by any means necessary. They have taken notice of the profits that can be made through the illegal poaching and trading of wildlife, and are now using those profits to finance their wars against innocent and helpless civilians across Africa. Therefore, a global massacre has been functioning in recent times. And as long as this massacre continues, not only will Africa's wildlife and human population suffer tremendously but would greatly impact the continent's tourist industry resulting in issues such as capturing and killing of foreign tourists. The world needs to wake up; wake up to bolster its efforts to curb down this ongoing menace that is being operated by groups of ruthless and bloodthirsty cutthroats with absolutely no regard for human or animal life.

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Government of India to Improve the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972

Bengal tiger

It has been recently announced that the government of India has made its decision to tighten the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 by increasing the penal clauses. It is also beefing up the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau to stop poachers. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stated at a meeting of the National Board of Wildlife that the government has announced a number of improvements to the Wildlife Protection Act to increase the penal clauses, and assimilate the clauses of the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) to give more power to the law. These proposed provisions include heightening the incarceration terms to seven years and increasing limits of fines up to fifty lakh. In addition to that, the government is also in the course of outlining the amendments that would provide a role to gram sabhas and panchayats in appointed areas in the acknowledgement and management of protected areas. Prime Minister Singh hopes to accept these improvements, and present a bill in the Parliament.
Asiatic lion

The effort to bolster the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau is being done with the adding of more field units, forensic labs, and regional offices. A national database on wildlife crime and criminals is also under process. Prime Minister Singh refused to make any comments on the issues concerning the establishment of a second home to Asiatic lions and the tiger conservation, even though both are on the agenda. Instead, he emphasized on the significance of conserving endangered species other than large mammals. The government-sponsored scheme named Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats will focus on conserving other wildlife species, such as birds and marine life. Prime Minister Singh also stated that the central government would guarantee proper quota to protect wildlife habitat, which in turn would help in protecting critically endangered species like the great Indian bustard, the Jerdon's courser, the Kashmir stag, the Manipur brow-antlered deer, and the snow leopard. At the same time, he stated that the environment ministry has to install a monitoring mechanism to guarantee that funds are used. The ministry has also been directed to build up its regional offices by enlisting wildlife experts not only to survey the practice of wildlife schemes, but also to insure concrete cohesion to conditions of wildlife authorizations.
Great Indian bustard

I'm very proud and happy to see what the government of India is doing in an effort to help save the nation's wildlife. Not only has it proposed in making improvements to the Wildlife Protection Act, but has also laid out the groundwork on how it is going to protect and conserve the wildlife. These guidelines include increasing the number imprisonment terms to seven years, and strengthening limits of fines up to fifty lakh. Furthermore, the government is also strengthening the nation's Wildlife Crime Control Bureau with the establishment of more facilities such as forensic labs and regional offices, and enlisting new wildlife experts. In my opinion, this news clearly indicates that India is the poster child of why it is crucial to help protect and conserve wildlife. Therefore, I believe that other countries should look up to India in order to get some idea on how to protect their own local wildlife. In addition to that, it would also very much help if these countries would forge alliances with India which would further help in the conservation of wildlife around the world. Although Prime Minister Singh did not comment on conservation issues like the one concerning India's tiger conservation, there is news that the country has been hailed by the Wildlife Conservation Society for its commitment to the conservation of tigers. The society has also warned other Asian governments that the time to save their local wildlife is running out. This is why it is absolutely essential that governments across Asia, as well as in other parts of the world, to join forces with each other and various global conservation groups to save their threatened wildlife species by any means necessary. I also very much hope that the amendments made for the Wildlife Protection Act would help in the drafting of a bill which would later be submitted to the Parliament. The time is essential for India to save and conserve its wildlife, and so it is for other countries around the world.

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