Saturday, January 28, 2012

Thailand's Elephants Being Poached for Human Consumption

Domestic elephants in Thailand

The elephant has long been considered to be Thailand's most revered symbol. But like many endangered species, its status has never stopped people from killing it for ivory. But now, Thailand's elephants are being poached for a different purpose: human consumption. Last month, two wild elephants were found slaughtered in a national park in western Thailand. This alerted authorities to prepare for the practice of elephant meat consumption. According to Damrong Phidet, director-general of Thailand's wildlife agency, the animals were missing their sex organs and tusks which the poachers took for human consumption. He also said that some of the meat was to be consumed without cooking, like sashimi. He further added that elephant meat was on the menu in restaurants in Phuket. However, being a popular travel destination, it was not clear if the diners were foreign visitors. The National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation Department estimates that there are fewer than 3,000 wild elephants in Thailand and about 4,000 domestic ones. This, according to Mr. Phidet, indicates that the situation has come to a crisis point. Soraida Salwala, founder of Friends of the Asian Elephant foundation, stated that there are only a handful of people consuming elephant meat. However, she warned that once there is demand, poachers will go through any lengths to pursue big money.
Elephants collecting donations for the survivors of Haiti's earthquake

This news report gives a clear representation about the vulnerability such animals have, despite their prestigious status as symbols of any countries. In this case, it is the elephant. No matter how much they are revered as a national symbol of Thailand, they are always vulnerable to the threats of poaching regardless of what form it comes. Elsewhere in the world, there are other animals who are also revered and regarded as auspicious. For example, Sarus cranes of India have long been considered as symbols of fidelity and that harming them is considered to be very bad luck. It is said that if one the pair is killed, its mate would die of broken heart. But this belief does not stop people from illegally killing them simply for the sake of big money. This may sound like a bad omen, but it is also an act of exploiting the wildlife of a nation that is renowned for having some of the richest biodiversities in the world. Thailand, too, is home such a variety of wildlife and is also prone to poaching and other man-made disasters. Every wild creature's life is at stake, including those that are revered as symbols of the nation or even gods. This is why it is crucial to protect them by any means necessary, as part of preserving the heritage of the nation. Same should be done in other nations too.

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Researchers Help Protect Indian Wolf Habitat

An Indian wolf resting

It has been recently reported that a series of efforts conducted by a team of researchers has resulted in protection of a 30-square kilometer Indian wolf habitat. The 10-member team under a Rajasthan-based NGO called Tiger Watch consisted of researchers from Fergusson College, University of Mumbai, and University of Kent's Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology. A four-month expedition in the Banas region of Rajasthan's Greater Ranthambore area by the team has confirmed the presence of wolves. However, this area was also facing major threats due to sand mining and leveling for construction and cultivation. After discovering the threats, the district authorities have declared the area as a "protected community land" (PCL).
A skull of an Indian wolf

I'm very happy to see what steps researchers in India are taking regarding the endangered species. One of them is the Indian wolf. Like the lion, the tiger, and the leopard, the wolf is also the top predator in the ecosystems. But over the years since the days of the British Raj, it has faced numerous threats including loss of habitat and natural prey. This, in turn, forced the wolf to go in search of easier prey: people. And because of the lack of habitat and prey, the wolf had been labeled as a maneater by both the local people and British colonists. Even today, populations of these wolves are seen around "human-dominated agro-pastoral landscapes," according to Pooja Rathod of Fergusson College. This indicates that a number of wolves are seen outside protected areas. And it is therefore crucial to protect and conserve them by any means necessary. The reason is not only because they are a keystone species, but these wolves are part of an ancient clade which has not interbred with any other wolf population. This makes them a separate species from the gray wolf.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Gray Wolf Crosses into California from Oregon

A radio-collared wolf dubbed OR7

It has been reported that for the first time in 88 years a gray wolf has been spotted crossing into California from Oregon. A young male wolf, dubbed OR7 by biologists, was tracked by his GPS collar as he crossed into California on 28th of December. He was born in Oregon to a pack that originally came from Idaho, where the species was reintroduced during mid-1990s. The news, however, was no surprise to officials such as Jordan Traverso of the California Fish and Game Department in Sacremento and Patrick Valentino of the California Wolf Center who knew that something like this would happen. Since their dramatic recovery during the mid-1990s, the gray wolf population has reached a point to which they are delisted as endangered species. According to Gary Frazer of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, there are an estimated 1,800 wolves in the Rocky Mountains and 3,000 in the states of Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. While the wolf populations in those states are being controlled through management, in California it is a different story. That is, they are still considered endangered and will likely stay that way for years, though it is a discussion that is just starting. In the meantime, only one wolf has been recorded which is not much of a worry to ranchers like Jack Cowley. However, he stated that more wolves would come after one moves in.
OR7 captured on film

I'm very much amazed to see that California has just witnessed the arrival of its first gray wolf in 88 years. It's arrival has sparked optimism among conservationists but also concern to the local ranchers. I personally think it is truly a momentous occassion since wolves had once disappeared from California, and now with the arrival of this one, the wolf population in California is on the verge of making a comeback. With the arrival of the wolf, it's very likely the ecosystem of northern California will be kept further in balance as these animals will keep the local deer and elk population in check. However, it is also possible the animals could turn to preying on livestock and for this I think it would be useful for the ranchers to employ harmless techniques in preventing such losses. The best idea would be to employ livestock guardian dogs to protect the animals. This type of technique is being used by farmers in Catalonia. With these dogs present, it is very likely the wolves will not wander into human territory. Elsewhere in the Rocky Mountains and Great Lakes regions, wolves are being controlled through legalized hunting due to increase in populations. But in the Isle Royale National Park, their populations are considerably low with the lack of females. This, in my opinion, should be taken care of with reintroduction of more wolves into the national park from the surrounding region. This tactic would not only help reboost Isle Royale's wolf population, but keep the population in the Great Lakes region in check in a harmless way.

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U.S Government Set to Approve Ban on Importing and Selling of Pythons

Florida Senator Bill Nelson with a 17-foot long python skin

It has been recently reported that the U.S government is set to place a ban on the importing of pythons in the country. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will be set to make the announcement during a press conference at a flood control pumping station off the Tamiami Trail in the Everglades. Under the rule that was subjected to five years of lobbying and debate, the U.S government has intended to declare the Burmese python as an "injurious" species making it illegal to either import or sell the snakes across state lines. This python is one of the nine species of constricting snakes having taken over the Everglades ecosystem. However, the African rock python will also make it to the list as it is also slithering amok in the region. Despite numerous attempts made by state and federal wildlife managers, environmental groups, scientists, and local lawmakers like Senator Bill Nelson to outlaw the issue, no such action was taken before. The reason was because many reptile breeders and collectors were backed by Republican lawmakers, who would dispute any arguments saying that the snakes pose a threat to Florida's native ecosystems and argue that placing restrictions would harm the exotic pet industry. Biologists estimate that there are thousands of pythons in the Everglades, where they have eaten everything including alligators, and some studies suggest they could possibly spread outside Florida.
The Burmese python is a major threat in Florida to both the wildlife and the general public.

I'm very proud to see that the U.S government has taken this matter into consideration. And now, it has made it's decision to ban the importing and selling of pythons in the U.S. However, I also feel that it is important to consider other non-native species that are wreaking havoc in the wilds of Florida. For example, there are Nile monitor lizards running loose in the native ecosystems. These scaly invaders are considered to be a potential threats to the Florida's native inhabitants, especially American alligators and crocodiles. Originating from Africa, these lizards have an insatiable appetite for crocodile eggs. Similarly in Florida, they see alligator and crocodile eggs as their native delicacy. By feeding on them, they hinder the alligator and crocodile populations. In addition to that, they are also turning up in the local suburbs encountering people and pets resulting in serious injuries to the general public. Another alien hazard to Florida is the Gambian giant pouched rat. This rodent has gained notoriety for the monkeypox epidemic in the U.S over the years. This is why it is crucial for the U.S to tackle the growing problem of exotic pets running loose in Florida and elsewhere in the nation, impacting both the native wildlife and the general public.

View article here

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

C.D.C Study- Illegal Wildlife Trade Threatens Public Health in the U.S


A recent collaborative study led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has discovered the proof of retroviruses and herpes viruses in illegal wildlife products at several international airports across the U.S. It was established by scientists from the American Museum of Natural History, Columbia University, EcoHealth Alliance, the USGS National Wildlife Health Center, and the Wildlife Conservation Society. The pilot study was introduced to test methods to identify potential public health risks by way of such illicit imports that find their way into the nation. Published on Tuesday in the journal PLoS ONE, the study identified illegal wildlife imports, mostly dead animals such as bushmeat and primates like monkeys, destined for human consumption before being confiscated by customs agents. It was also the first to set up port surveillance methodology to check for various diseases associated with the illegal contraband, especially zoonotic viruses.
A rabid dog

The study was based on the belief that with better surveillance of illegal wildlife shipments coming to ports around the country, authorities will have a better chance of preventing any rise of new diseases. While it is unclear as to how harmful these viruses are, the study proved that the illegal wildlife trade is a dangerous path for introducing a new virus into the human population. In addition to public health risks, there is even a potential risk of introducing the variants to the native North American wildlife and agricultural species. The study also explained that the magnitude of non-native wildlife causes damage to the country's ecosystems, as well as slowing down the protection of threatened or endangered species recognized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Researchers examined 44 animals, which consisted of nine primates and 35 rats. They then conducted genetic techniques to scan for viruses in sampled meat and discovered simian foamy virus, cytomegaloviruses, and lymphocryptoviruses; all of which pose grave threat to humans.
Monkeypox; one of the diseases affecting the American public

This article, in my opinion, gives a clear picture about the dangers of illegal wildlife trade as it spans all over the world targeting various nations due to increased demands for endangered exotic wildlife. Little do the operators of these illicit activities know that by transporting and selling illegal wildlife products, they are not only decimating the wildlife but also spreading viruses and diseases to unwary consumers. This is especially seen in the case of the bushmeat trade, where researchers have uncovered viruses such as the simian foamy virus which is life-threatening to humans. However, in addition to primates, other endangered species which fall victim to this illicit and lucrative business are also prone to spreading diseases to the general public. In addition to that, they are also a major threat to the native North American wildlife. And with the ongoing threats from issues like the pet trade, exotic animals are ending up in the wild corners of North America particularly Florida where they are slowing down the protection of the native endangered species. This is why it is extremely crucial to put a stop to the illegal wildlife trade to save the lives of both wild animals and people in the U.S.

View article here

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Florida's Palm Beach Zoo to Host First Annual Pet Amnesty Day

A kinkajou being held by a Palm Beach Zoo representative during the press conference of its First Annual Pet Amnesty Day

It has been recently reported that Florida's Palm Beach Zoo will be hosting the county's first Pet Amnesty Day on January 14th at the West Palm Beach Garden Club. The purpose of this event is to urge the public to stick with more tradtional pets like cats and dogs, and refrain from releasing exotic pets into Florida's native wild lands. Instead, they will be invited down to this event to surrender non-native animals to individuals who will care for them and guarantee they will not be released into the wild. According to Lisa Jameson, an invasive species biologist with the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, exotic pets are a major threat to the loss of natural diversity all around the world. She further added how ball pythons, one of the most popular exotic pets, are being released into the Everglades and competing with the native wildlife. One of the region's endemic species, the endangered cotton rat, has fallen prey to this alien species. In addition to that, native snakes such as rattlesnakes are being out-competed as hundreds of thousands of pythons have made the Everglades their home. Jameson also stated that zoo representatives and wildlife organizations are working on a legislation to prevent any new exotic species from entering the country, primarily constricting snakes.
This Argentine black and white tegu is one of several exotic pets invading Florida's native wild lands.

I'm very happy and proud to see what the representatives of the Palm Beach Zoo are doing in collaboration with wildlife organizations, in order to curb the flow of exotic pets onto Florida's wild lands. In addition to that, they are also working on a legislation to prevent any more such alien species from being secretly brought into the U.S. I also feel that the federal government of the United States should consider this matter seriously. Florida, which is renowned for its tropical image as a paradise on earth, was once a major hub for the illegal trafficking of narcotics with drugs coming from the Caribbean and South America. But now, the Sunshine State is being overrun by invasive species as a result of the pet trade. Because of this lucrative business, residents all over the Sunshine State are keeping such animals as pets and carelessly releasing them out in the wilderness where they take over the entire ecosystem. Some like pythons have gained notoriety for killing cats, dogs, and even small children as a result of being kept as family pets in the sun-drenched suburbs. In addition to terrestrial animals, aquatic animals have also been part of the pet trade. The lionfish, in particular, has established itself as an invasive species in the Atlantic Ocean since the mid-1990s. This is why it is crucial for the U.S to take measures in an effort to minimize the pet trade from bringing in exotic wildlife from overseas in different continents.

View article here

Illegal Wildlife Trade Dragnet Nabs Dozen People in California and Nevada

This tiger rug was one of several illegal items seized by authorities in southern California and Nevada.

Federal prosecutors have recently announced that a dozen people have been arrested on charges of violating wildlife protection crimes by selling nearly fifty "wildlife products" online. Of the twelve people, nine are facing federal charges and three are facing California state charges. If convicted, they could be sentenced to six months' jail time and fined up to $100,000. The charges they face were filed under a joint federal and state investigation called Operation Cyberwild. During this dragnet, which began in July, investigators went undercover posing as buyers and responded to ads placed on websites by sellers in southern California and Nevada. Special agents working with the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service and game wardens of the California Department of Fish and Game bought a number of items from these perpetrators. These included a leopard skin coat for $8,000, a tiger rug for $10,000, a live arowana for $2,500, and two live red-whiskered bulbuls for $1,750. Federal prosecutors stated that authorities also confiscated live endangered fish and migratory birds, an elephant foot, mounted birds, and pelts from a leopard and a polar bear. According to Erin Dean, an agent with the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, they hope the bust will send a message to any individuals selling- or even thinking of selling - endangered wildlife.
A real genuine leopard-skin coat.

I'm very glad to see what the local wildlife agencies in the U.S are doing, in order to combat the threat of illegal wildlife trade. But what amazed me about this operation is that it was helped by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). According to this article, about a half dozen volunteers in Los Angeles and throughout southern California searched on websites such as Craigslist, eBay, and various forums for participants in this lucrative business. While it's easy to say that this operation would send a message to any would-be perpetrators, I believe that in order to make it difficult for the sellers, Craigslist and eBay should set up rules to make it illegal to sell endangered wildlife online. This way, it will further help law enforcement to tackle this ongoing threat that is affecting endangered wildlife around the world.

View article here     

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

South Africa's Rhino Poaching Hits Record Level

Black rhinoceros

2010 had seen one of the worst and bloodiest onslaughts of rhino poaching in South Africa. At that time, 333 rhinos were ruthlessly slaughtered as a result of a poaching epidemic plaguing the nation know for containing over ninety percent of rhinos in Africa. But now, that figure has increased to an all-time high of 443 rhinos killed in 2011. A study conducted by a man named Richard Emslie has shown that the number of rhinos dying either of poaching or legal hunts has reached that level, which is likely to result in a population decline. According to investigators, half of the carnage takes place in the famed Kruger National Park. Despite the deployment of soldiers and surveillance aircraft to slow down the process, the national park remains a major hub of poaching. Gangs of poachers working for international crime syndicates are said to use sophisticated technology such as high-powered weaponry and night-vision goggles to carry out their murderous deeds. Investigators further added that many were trained by Mozambique's military or the police, and are living in the border region next to Kruger National Park.

This news definitely highlights that 2011 has been one of the worst years for South Africa's rhinos. It seems that almost everyday, one form of poaching is taking place in broad daylight or even under the cover of night. In addition to that, legal hunting of rhinos is also contributing to the downfall. It looks like South Africa, which once had a reputation for being a haven for rhinos, has turned into a slaughterhouse. And those who are running the slaughterhouse are the international crime syndicates, who are deploying their poachers onto South Africa's to carry out their bloodthirsty activities. Africa has already lost one rhino last year to extinction. Now, it appears that more and more are being pushed to death's door and places like Kruger National Park are becoming hotspots for such illicit activities. The nation needs to step up its efforts in putting a stop to rhino poaching. Otherwise, the loss would permanently affect its tourist industry.

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