Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Advanced Genetic Tools Used for West Bengal's Rhino Census

Indian one-horned rhino

It has been recently reported that newly-advanced genetic tools have been used for the first time to carry out a census of Indian rhinos in West Bengal's Gorumara National Park. The census was conducted a biodiversity conservation organization called Aaranyak, and identified 43 rhinos through genetic analysis of dung samples. In addition to that, the study confirmed the sex ratio of 4:1 (male: female) similar to what was found earlier. Udayan Borthakur, the head of the organization's Wildlife Genetics Program, stated that this ratio showing a greater number of males has been "a matter of concern for the authorities." This project was conducted with the permission and support from the West Bengal Forest Department to which Aaranyak had submitted a report advocating further genetic study on rhinos in Gorumara National Park, as well as in the nearby Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary. Borthakur, who is also a member of the IUCN SSC Asian Rhino Specialist Group, called attention to the low genetic diversity of Gorumara's rhino population, which commands management intervention to guarantee long term survival. He also added that Aaranyak would discuss the census report with the forest department and engage in further work in both Gorumara and Jaldapara to answer some questions concerning the "management" of rhinos. Asian rhino specialist and Aaranyak's secretary-general Bibhab Kumar Talukdar stated that such technological development bears great importance in the conservation and scientific monitoring of rhinos in the future.
Entrance at Gorumara National Park

I'm very much impressed by what these new cutting-edge genetic tools have uncovered regarding West Bengal's rhino population. Aaranyak had earlier provided technical support to estimate the genetic population of Indonesia's Javan and Sumatran rhinos. Now, the organization has implemented the same methods in order to determine the state of the rhino population in India. Based on the data collected, it has been found that Gorumara National Park has a low genetic diversity in its rhino population with four males and one female. This is truly a matter of tremendous concern since it could result in decrease of the current rhino population either by natural death or poaching. This is why it is extremely crucial to revive Gorumara's rhino population through reintroduction efforts from places like Kaziranga National Park, where rhino populations have increased exponentially for many years. In addition to reviving Gorumara's rhino population, the process of reintroduction would also keep Kaziranga's rhino population in balance. Furthermore, I believe these tools should also be put to use in determining the state of South Africa's rhino populations. Increase in the levels of security may have done some good in keeping current rhino numbers safe, but it is also important to have a team of researchers from organizations like Aaranyak to conduct studies in order to determine the genetic diversity of these animals. This way, authorities would get some idea on what they need to do or improve in order to keep rhino populations safe. Overall, authorities around the world should form a joint partnerships with Aaranyak and other conservation groups in an effort to keep populations of endangered species safe.

View article here

Friday, August 24, 2012

TRAFFIC- Over 500 Rhinos Could Perish this Year

A pair of rhinos grazing in Kenya's Lewa Wildlife Conservancy

The global wildlife monitoring network TRAFFIC has recently warned that 515 rhinos could be killed this year if no action is taken to curb illegal trade in their horns. The network stated in its latest report titled The South African-Vietnam Rhino Trade Nexus that with a total of 281 rhinos perished as of July, there was a "predicted loss of 515 by the year end if current poaching rate continues." South Africa, which is home to about three quarters of Africa's 20,000 white rhinos and 4,800 black rhinos, has witnessed an extraordinary spike in violent, yet organized and sophisticated rhino-related criminal activities. 448 rhinos were killed last year, compared to just thirteen in 2007. In 2010, South Africa increased its battle against the poaching of rhinos and trade in their horns, resulting in arrests of more than 165 people. Jo Shaw, the report's coauthor, stated that South Africa's anti-poaching efforts are starting to pay off, but she also warned that even as security levels are stepped up, the poachers usually appear to be one step ahead. One example is seen in the case where game ranch custodians and operators have been lured into the poaching syndicates to become "rhino horn dealers of some description".
Graphic fact file on the global underground trade in poached rhino parts

The report has also labeled Vietnam as the worst malefactor inciting the trade in the black market for rhino horns. In addition to that, the report stated that the only way to put an end to the illegal poaching of rhinos is to block the demand by urging Vietnam to valiantly show commitment and firmly administer laws that ban the trade in rhino horns. It was even found out at the report's launch that South Africa and Vietnam are ready to sign a landmark deal to help stop illegal rhino poaching and trade in rhino horns. Tom Milliken, another coauthor of the report who is also an expert on rhinos, stated that the good news is both the nations are about to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU). Although TRAFFIC did not give details about the MOU, it did say that the memorandum is thought to be the center on law enforcement. Last week, Vietnam's deputy foreign affairs minister Le Luong Minh held talks in South Africa over poaching, trafficking, and trade of wildlife with his equivalent Ebrahim Ebrahim. Mavuso Msimang, a rhino expert for South Africa's department of environmental affairs stated that the the "will to do right is with us". His statement reflects on the fact that crimes related to rhinos are being given stiffer sentences and that there is now a dedicated prosecutor to take care of such criminal activities.
Seized rhino horns on display in Hong Kong's Customs and Excise Department Offices

I feel that this report made by TRAFFIC should be taken as an initiative for countries around the world to work together in an effort to curb the illegal poaching of rhinos and the trade in their horns. The signing of the MOU between South Africa and Vietnam may seem like good news, but what is most important is the administering of stiffer penalties against poaching and trade in illicit merchandise along with the enhancement in law enforcement in nations where rhino poaching runs rampant. In addition to that, there should also be an implementation of community outreach programs in these places in order to raise public awareness about the dangers of rhino poaching and how the public can help in order to put a stop to this ongoing threat. Countries like India and Nepal had taken and still are taking drastic steps to minimize any poaching of rhinos in their wild places. I think these countries should also form a partnership with South Africa, in order to help in the battle against rhino poachers and the operators of the illegal rhino horn trade. South Africa has in recent years been hit hard, suffering staggering losses in its rhino populations as a result of the dirty yet sophisticated work of these well-organized poaching syndicates. As long as the ongoing bloodbath continues, the impact would affect the nation's tourist industry and its reputation as a haven for Africa's wildlife. The clock is ticking.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Declining Prey Species Could Endanger India's Tiger Population

Bengal tiger

Studies by environmental groups have recently shown that India's tiger population is declining as a result of decreasing numbers of prey species, especially deer, in the nation's tiger reserves. After a treatment of a tiger at the Alipore Zoological Gardens for starvation, the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) made a report saying that prey base in the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve of West Bengal is under investigation. The report, titled Population Estimation And The Ecology Of Tigers In Sunderbans Tiger Reserve (STR) was done by a joint collaboration of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), WII, and the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve. It has found a very low prey density in the mangroves, Sajnakhali Wildlife Sanctuary, and the west range of the Sunderbans. According to WII's scientist Y.V. Jhala, a total of 187 kilometers of boat transects was conducted between February and May to get an idea of the prey density through visual detection. He further added that each transect was repeated three to six times, and that prey density along Sajnakhali's creeks and west of the Sunderbans was relatively low with only 13.3 spotted deer per square kilometer. He also stated that in an area of 2,500 square kilometers, the number of deer will only be a little over 30,000 making the prey density very low in such a large area of the Sunderbans.
Chital (spotted deer); favorite prey of tigers

An earlier study by scientists George Schaller and Ullas Karanth stated that there should always be a natural balance between the predators and their prey. While a total of 500 deer could provide adequate food base to one tiger, the breeding rate of the prey is always controlled by the predation rate of tigers. Going by that figure, the study said that the low density of deer could only support 60 to 65 tigers. The WII alerted that herbivores cannot salinity after a time point, which leads to the fall in prey base and eventually a likely decline in tiger numbers. This fact is now being enhanced by more detailed behavioral studies being carried out by the institute. Scientist and conservationist Ullas Karanth stated that a long term population dynamic studies being done in Karnataka will tell the WII whether Sunderbans' tiger population is increasing, decreasing, or stable. Biswajit Roy Chowdhury, a member of the West Bengal wildlife advisory board, stated that the decline in prey base in the Sunderbans was a result of Cyclone Aila. Another board member named Joydip Kundu added that if the study is to be trusted, there is a crucial need to increase Sunderbans' prey base by moving additional prey species from other sanctuaries. With a very low density of prey species such as deer and wild boar, experts have called for a detailed study to see whether any disease outbreak is behind the repeated straying of tigers in Sunderbans' villages.
Sunderbans during sunrise

I very much hope that conservationists and experts will come up with a solution to help revive India's tiger population from the declining of prey species, especially in the Sunderbans. The study by the WII has shown that the prey density in this delta is very low, which is why it is extremely crucial to investigate the cause(s) of the decline in prey species. At the same time, measurements to prevent tigers from straying into human settlements should be undertaken. The Sunderbans have long been infamous for being a major hub of tiger attacks. Usually this occurs when men from villagers would go into the forests to collect fish, firewood, and honey to support their families thus bringing them into close contact with these formidable felines. In response to such attacks, people have conducted strategies in hopes to prevent tigers from attacking them. The most common methods included wearing of masks behind their heads when venturing into the forests, or placing dummies resembling humans and laced with electric wires at a random spot. However, tigers have proven to be smart and calling the tactics a bluff. But now, with factors such as the rise in water levels because of climate change and declining of prey species, tigers have resorted to straying into villages putting lives of several people including children into jeopardy. This explains why it is absolutely necessary to take decisive action in determining what is causing the tigers' prey species to diminish, and undertake protection measurements to keep both people and tigers safe from each other. In 2009 and 2010, it was found that the reason tigers have been straying into Russian towns and villages is because they were infected with canine distemper. In addition to tigers, there is also a similar situation in southern India where elephants are becoming more defensive as a result of fragmentation in their habitat. This article gives a clear representation about why it is crucial to protect and conserve populations of our motherland's native species from both natural and man-made threats.

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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Tibetan Herders Lead Environmental Effort to Protect Tibet's Biodiversity

A Tibetan antelope in the Hoh Xil Nature Reserve

It has been recently reported that Tibetan herders are leading an environmental effort in protecting their local grasslands and biodiversity thanks to support from environmental groups and the central government. In the Qinghai Province, families from the Tsochi village have sacrificed parts of their grazing land and removed fences to make more space for wild animals including the kiang, Tibetan antelope, and wild yak. This village is located in the Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in the Three-River-Source Nature Reserve. The nature reserve, which stands at an average altitude of over 4,000 feet above sea level, covers an area of 360,000 square kilometers and is named for being the main source of the Mekong, Yangtze, and Yellow Rivers. According to the village head Razi Karma, 58 families have resettled in the Qumarleb County and the city of Golmud. He also added that about 140 families have stayed, living in tents on the pasture in summer and new government-subsidized houses in winter.

As part of the effort, the local nomads were urged to limit grazing land in order to protect pastures from degradation. Since late 2011, the central government has granted them ninety yuan for every hectare they do not use. At that time, the State Council issued a law designed to promote sustainable development in herding areas. Also, since 2004, more than 200 Tsochi villagers joined a volunteer group called Friends of the Wild Yak, which gives monitoring data of wild animals four times a year. The villagers' patrolled their village regularly, which helped prevent illegal poaching. However, the two biggest threats the villagers feared the most were construction and mining projects. Several reports of illegal coal and gold mining filed by the villagers to the authorities in the past forced miners to pay their fines and leave. Razi Karma stated that the reason behind this major change was giving herders the right to intervene and protect their land, so that they are empowered to refrain the people coming from illegal construction, hunting, and mining. Karma further added that the villagers had no access to their major source of cash income: caterpillar fungus. Therefore, they had to rely on livestock products such as wool and meat in order to make their living. Unfortunately, this source of income is under threat due to climate change and predation by wildlife. In the past, the most drastic weather conditions resulted in catastrophes such as drying of rivers, severe winters, and extremely hot summers which caused income fluctuations to which villagers had to adapt to. In addition to that, predators such as brown bears and wolves would raid settlements, attacking yaks, goats, and horses. Although Karma keeps track of livestock losses, there is no solution despite a two million yuan compensation paid to 1,454 families in Lhasa's Damxung County early this year by the State Forestry Administration.
A wild yak

I'm very proud to see what the local people in Tibet are doing, in order to help their wildlife flourish. However, at the same time, I feel that the issue of climate change is still at large. Not has it affected the wildlife, but also the livelihood of these people. This is why I believe it is extremely crucial for the governments of Tibet and China to team up with these people, along with various environmental groups in order to take a direct stand against the threat of climate change. The threats caused by illegal poaching and mining for minerals may have been taken care of in the past, but they are never far from carrying out their illicit and harmful activities in the region. Not only do they affect the biodiversity, but also contribute to climate change and global warming resulting in further environmental catastrophes. In addition to that, there should also be reduction and limit of tourist visits in the region as put by Dawa Tsering of the Tibet Academy of Social Sciences. Furthermore, measures to help the people's livelihood should also be implemented. This includes providing them with livestock guardian dogs to protect their livestock from predators. This method was notably used earlier by the Catalonian government, and should also be used by governments in other parts of the world where livestock predation is a common occurrence.
A Tibetan brown bear

One particular method that is currently in talks is an ecotourism project. This idea came up by Andreas Gruschke, a scholar from Germany's Leipzig University who has been offered a professorship at Sichuan University and will begin more discussions in China about how the locals will benefit from it. He further added that another project under consideration is waste disposal measures, especially in rural areas where communities are facing piles of waste and should work together with the administration to come up with a solution. One organization called the Three-River-Source Environmental Protection Association is working on household garbage collection and medical waste disposal. According to the association's accountant Liu Ying, a team of villagers is in charge of collecting garbage and sending it to a large pit near a river. However, she also added that medical waste is difficult to collect since medical centers are far away and some doctors are worried about recycling syringes because contaminated supplies could be reused and cause tremendous harm to patients. In order to prevent this, the association will invite Taiwanese doctors to train rural healthcare providers and probably come up with a standard practice on how to collect medical waste. Overall, I think Tibet is on the verge of helping save, protect, and preserve its biodiversity. However, the issue of climate change still looms large and a great deal of action needs to be undertaken to combat this ongoing environmental threat.

View article here

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Poachers Pose Threat to Bangladesh's Tiger Cubs


In Bangladesh, it has been reported that while tigers face threats ranging from habitat destruction to the illegal trade in their body parts, their cubs are facing the life-threatening wrath of poachers. This was recently seen in the case of three tiger cubs in a Dhaka zoo, who were allegedly being smuggled out of the country by poachers. They were earlier found by residents inside a high-rise building in June. The residents heard the cubs grunting and squeaking while trying to climb from the ground floor. Fortunately, special security forces were able to rescue the young animals and take them to a private zoo where they were fed milk and put on display. However, due to health problems and stress from the building residents, the cubs were relocated to a specifically designed home in a botanical garden in Dhaka. Security forces then arrested a man and his mother for collecting the two cubs and keeping them until they could be smuggled out of Bangladesh. Each cub was estimated at two million taka. The recent rescue of these tiger cubs was a message for conservationists, who were not aware of the illegal trade in tiger cubs. According to Reaj Morshed, program officer of the Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh (WTB), it was the first report of tigers being captured alive by poachers. Since the rescue, the government has strengthened Bangladesh's laws for smuggling tiger cubs and enforced a seven-year sentence and a fine of 500,000 taka. As part of the effort, forest guards in the Sunderbans will be armed with new guns and trained to put a stop to poaching and smuggling of wildlife. Although this new seemed like a step towards the right direction as put by Ishtiaq Uddin Ahmad for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), other people disagreed. One of them was a local villager named Mohammad Badiuzzaman, who stated that laws to protect the forests and its inhabitants were never strictly imposed.

I very much hope that after what had happened to these tiger cubs, Bangladesh will put its laws into action. Just speaking about them and launching of campaigns will do little to help both the people and the wildlife. This news also reports that the tiger population in the Sunderbans, which is home to an estimated 300 to 500 of these majestic animals in a 10,000 square kilometer-forest, has been declining steadily. In addition to that, their home is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Without the enforcement of strict laws will lead to the Sunderbans loosing its status as a World Heritage Site, and may also impact its tourist industry. For this reason, I believe that it is absolutely essential for Bangladesh to put its laws against wildlife crimes into action instead of merely speaking about them to the public. Furthermore, in addition to targeting poachers and other people suspected of such crimes, there has to be a community outreach program in order to help save the lives of tigers and other wildlife making their home in the Sunderbans. These poachers will target just about any endangered species, regardless of what shape or size. This was especially seen in the case of these tiger cubs, who were being smuggled out of their homeland and into the hands of a would-be consumer somewhere overseas in a completely different environment. This is why it is crucial for Bangladesh and every other nation around the world to fully enforce its environmental laws against this ongoing atrocity.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Shark Attack Survivors Speak Out for Ban on Shark Fins

Shark fins

Sharks have for generations been given a bad impression as maneaters by the general public. Their reputation as bloodthirsty killers has haunted the minds of people all around the world, and even glorified in countless films. News about shark attacks have and still continue to make headlines, especially in places that have gained notoriety for such dangerous and life-threatening encounters. Whenever there is a report about a shark attack, it is generally more than enough to put the fear of God into people making them think that sharks are ruthless killers of the deep blue sea. But now, that image is about change as survivors of such horrific attacks are stepping forward to save lives of these fish that once tried to either sever their limbs, and in some cases, nearly taking their lives. As part of the effort, they are speaking out against the selling of shark fins and persuading restaurant-goers to refrain from eating at restaurants serving shark fin soup. A report released by the Pew Environmental Group indicated that out of 32 samples with traceable shark DNA taken from Chinese restaurants across the United States, 26 had fins of sharks listed as endangered, vulnerable, or near threatened species. The study was based on shark fin soup tests in fourteen major U.S cities from where shark attack survivors collected samples. They spread out to a total of 51 restaurants in Albuquerque, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York City, Orlando, San Francisco, Seattle, and the Washington, D.C. area. The findings showed that seven samples from Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Orlando, San Francisco, and Seattle contained DNA from sharks listed as vulnerable. Another eighteen samples were found to have DNA from sharks listed as near threatened, while the remaining samples contained meat that could not be specifically determined either due to the quality of the DNA or lack of useable DNA.
A bowl of shark fin soup

In addition to conducting their study, the group has also lobbied the U.S Congress to shut the loopholes in the shark fin trade and even works through the United Nations to urge the setting up of shark sanctuaries around the world. Their efforts in protecting sharks started after a competitive ballroom dancer named Debbie Salamone had her Achilles tendon lacerated by a shark off the coast of Florida in 2004. Salamone, who is now a spokeswoman for the group, decided to refocus her life's work on protecting sharks and enlisting other shark attack victims from around the world to help with her goal. The group stated that nearly one-third of shark species are on the brink of extinction, and up to 73 million are killed each year for their fins. They hope that the study will encourage the public to stop consuming shark fin soup. However, this action did not sit well with California's Chinese community who claimed that a recently enacted state law calling to ban on the possession or sale of shark fins is discriminatory since they consider shark fin soup as a delicacy. One San Francisco lawyer named John Breall, who represents Asian-American civic leaders, importers, and restauranteurs, was surprised by the group's findings. He argued that major shark fisheries on the East and West coasts that supply majority of shark fins and meats are sustainable.
Debbie Salamone; a shark attack victim and spokeswoman for the Pew Environmental Group

I'm very proud to see what shark attack victims are doing in an effort to help save sharks from around the world. The fact that a victim of an animal attack speaking out for the protection and conservation of a particular animal he or she was attacked by can set an example to why it is extremely important to protect and preserve the wildlife of the world. Sharks are one of many animals that have been stereotyped as threats to human lives, but it is important to understand that it is not in their mindset that they want to target human beings as their potential prey. Most cases of shark attacks are a result of mistaken identity. This is especially seen in the case of sharks attacking surfers, mistaking them for seals or sea lions which are their natural prey. The impact of the media has made people believe that sharks are cold-blooded killers, and this is probably why most people would think twice before entering the water. I believe that the best way to keep both people and sharks safe from each other is to have patrols to scout for any possible shark sightings along beaches, and notify the public if there a shark has been sighted. However, in the Chinese culture, the relationship between sharks and people is completely different. The Chinese people regard shark fin soup as a delicacy and like other animal body parts, it is believed to contain supernatural healing powers against different illnesses. This concept has never been proven to be true, yet supernatural belief still drives the public to consume such illegal products. Shark meat and fins are known to contain high contents of methylmercury which is dangerous to the health of young children, nursing mothers, pregnant women, and soon-to-be pregnant women. This is why it is extremely crucial to place a ban on the hunting of sharks and selling of their meat and fins to the public. Otherwise, more and more innocent lives will be at risk as a result of methylmercury.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Advertisement Campaign Launched to Stop South Africa's Lion Bone Trade

A white African lion at a game park in South Africa

It has been recently reported that a new advertisement campaign has started in South Africa to stop its lion bone trade. The campaign has been established by a global web movement known as Avaaz ("voice"). The ads calling for the stop in the lion bone trade can be seen in the arrival hall of Johannesburg's OR Tambo International Airport, the inflight magazine aboard South African Airways, and on Google. They are targeted at canned hunting, in which lions are born and raised on game farms for the purpose of hunting. Hunters are known to pay as much as $20,000 to shoot a lion inside a fenced-in area with no chance of escape. According to Avaaz's Campaign Director Jamie Choi, the trade in lion bones as aphrodisiacs is ongoing and experts fear that even wild lions, which number only 20,000 in Africa, are beginning to come under the attack. She further added that this lucrative, yet sadistic trade could hurt South Africa's tourist industry and its reputation as a wildlife haven unless South African President Jacob Zuma steps in and place a ban on the trade. Before launching the advertisement campaign, Avaaz had launched a global petition campaign prompting President Zuma to put a stop to the lion bone trade. After one month, the organization received 700,000 signatures from around the world. However, it did not receive any response from Environment Minister Edna Molewa or President Zuma's office. This led to the organization to launch its advertisement campaign to bring attention on what is happening to South Africa's lions. The issue was looked into by researchers at the University of Pretoria and Virginia's Sweet Briar College. Their study showed that South Africa's captive-bred lion hunting industry has grown very quickly, while the numbers of lions hunted in the wild in other African countries has decreased. They also stated that if captive-bred lion hunting was prohibited, the demand to hunt lions in the wild could increase resulting with negative impacts on the populations. They further added that decision-makers should take acknowledgement of the competence for increased demand for lion trophies and exercise steps to prevent extreme harvests. These steps include intensified restrictions on sustainable harvests, age restrictions on trophies, and in the case of South Africa, consideration of establishing buffer zones around parks where lion hunting is prohibited or tightly controlled.
Advertisements opposing the trade in lion bones at the OR Tambo International Airport

This article gives a clear representation about the dangers lions in South Africa are facing from humans. The two major threats these powerful and majestic animals are facing are the trade in their bones and canned hunting. In my opinion, South Africa is the only nation outside the United States to have facilities designed to provide clients with the opportunity to hunt wild animals in a fenced-in area. This idea of raising lions and other wild animals mainly for the purpose of hunting is considered to be both macabre and unethical. The animals are trapped inside with nowhere to escape, which violates the concept of "fair chase" according to some hunting organizations. For this reason, I believe South Africa should take a stand against this brutal and bloodthirsty hunting practice as part of the efforts to protect its wildlife. At the same time, there is an urgent need to put a stop to the lion bone trade. Despite the number of signatures Avaaz received, none have been from Environment Minister Edna Molewa who in May denied calls to outlaw the lion bone trade saying that it did not put wild lions in danger. I'm extremely shocked and hurt by this action because here you have a key figure of the South African government, who expressed tremendous concern for the plight of the nation's rhino population but did not believe that lions are in grave danger. This is why it is extremely crucial that the government of South Africa should take the initiative to help protect the nation's wildlife from a variety of threats ranging from poaching and the illegal wildlife trade, to canned hunting. If these horrific crimes against wildlife continue, then it would deeply impact South Africa's tourist industry and tremendously impact its reputation as haven for such magnificent creatures.

View article here

Monday, August 13, 2012

Wildlife Trophies Worth 213 Million Shillings Seized in Tanzania

Elephants in the Selous Game Reserve

It has been recently reported that a Special Joint Task Force organized by Tanzania's Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism has seized 213 million shillings worth of wildlife trophies in a special operation to combat poaching and illegal logging in the nation's Liwale district. The contraband seized included eighty rhino horns, fourteen elephant tusks, one elephant hair bracelet, two lion skins, and one leopard skin. The operation, which was established on July 22, has also seized eighty firearms, 685 rounds of ammunition, and 295 shell castings. Among the firearms seized included one semi-automatic rifle, sixteen rifles, and 63 shotguns. In addition to the trophies and firearms, the team also seized a Toyota Corolla with registration number T 836 ADV, two motorcycles, two saws, and fourteen pieces of timber.  The task force was a combination of different ministries such as the National and Trans-national Serious Crime Investigation Unit (National Task Force), which consists of members from the Police Force, Tanzania People's Defence Forces (TPDF), Tanzania Intelligence and Security Services (TISS), Prisons Department, Immigration Department, and the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP). Its leader, Deputy Commissioner of Police Simon Kassala, credited the team's success to the public's cooperation in providing them with tip-offs and information on people carrying out illegal poaching and logging. Liwale District Commissioner Ephraim Mbaga saw that the district's atmosphere changed after the task force began its work. According to the Minister of Home Affairs, Ambassador Khamis Kagasheki, up to 101 suspects have been captured and brought to the court of law.  He further added that the team used scientific intelligence gathering techniques that helped them nab the culprits. He also said that the recent raid in Liwale district will be the best example for similar operations to be carried out in Tanzania. The minister indicated that criminals in the Selous Game Reserve had become infamous for poaching and illegal logging in the nation. He expressed his optimism, saying that with current results from the task force such illicit activities will be put under control.

I'm very happy and proud to see that Tanzania has established a joint task force consisting of a variety of different authorities in an effort to combat illegal poaching and logging. But what really amazes me is that the public helped out the team by tipping them off about the alleged perpetrators, and their dirty work in the district. I believe that what has happened in Tanzania's Liwale district is an ideal example of what the public elsewhere in Tanzania, other countries of Africa, and around the world should do in order to help put a stop to poaching and other crimes related to wildlife and the environment. In addition to that, each and every country in a particular continent should review its laws in order to better enhance its penalties against such crimes. This issue is pointed out by Ambassador Kagasheki, who stated that despite the results from the raid, the alleged culprits got away after paying a fine of 200,000 shillings. This could mean that they will have a chance to conduct their lewd and illicit activities before their arrests. This could also explain why Tanzania has recently been named in one report as a country that loses thirty elephants daily. For this reason, it is absolutely crucial that Tanzania and other countries around the world should take intense measures in fighting poaching, the illegal wildlife trade, and other environmental crimes.

View article here

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Sheep Collar to Help Shepherds Against Wolf Attacks

Eurasian wolf

It has been recently reported that Swiss biologists are testing a sheep collar equipped with a special wolf-warning device that records the animals' heart rate changes, and notifies shepherds to attacks through text message while emitting a repellent at the same time. This contemplated collar is in its initial stage, and the heart monitor faculty was recently put to the test for the first time near the Les Diablerets ski resort. The team, which included biologist Jean-Marc Landry, fit the collars on twelve sheep with heart rate monitors similar to the ones used by human runners. The sheep were then released into an enclosure with a pair of muzzled Czechoslovakian wolfdogs. During the trial, the dogs circled the animals before attempting an attack. Readings from the collar monitors showed a compelling spike in the animals' heart rate, from sixty to eighty beats per minute to 225 beats when the dogs attacked. The testing of the second phase of the collar is scheduled for fall 2012. This phase is said to include a built-in wolf-repelling device, which could either be a spray or a sound repellant that will activate when a sheep's heart rate reaches a certain level. The collar will also simultaneously send a text message to the shepherd, notifying him to the attack. Although the details of the details of the repellant have not been released, the fact that Landry who is also the author of a paper named Non-lethal techniques for reducing depredation suggests that the system will not be a harmful one. The final antecedent of this collar is due to be tested in Switzerland and France in 2013, and Norway has even shown interest in the device.

I'm extremely proud and impressed that Swiss scientists have developed a device that would help shepherds protect their sheep from wolf attacks in a safe and harmless way. At the same time, I'm also very much hopeful that this collar would be useful for shepherds in other parts of the world where there are wolves and other powerful predators, including the United States of America and Asia. In the U.S, shepherds and other livestock owners have been living alongside wolves in a constant state of uneasiness since the animals' populations have increased over decades. I very much hope that shepherds in the U.S will eventually be given these ingenious devices that would keep their sheep safe from wolves and their smaller cousins the coyotes. This collar, according to the article, is a replacement for livestock guardian dogs for small herd owners who cannot afford to keep such powerful and majestic dogs to protect their sheep. In my opinion, the device will prove to be useful for these people without dogs to guard the sheep. Furthermore, I believe there should also be plans to create similar devices for other livestock animals such as cattle, horses, donkeys, goats, etc to keep them safe from predators in a non-lethal way. This would help in livestock-owning communities in places like Africa, where people like the Masai have lived alongside dangerous animals for generations. With devices like this, they can protect their livestock from powerful predators such as lions, hyenas, jackals, cheetahs, and leopards. If creations like this are distributed among pastoral communities around the world, people and wild animals are guaranteed to live side-by-side one another in peace.

View article here

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Eco-sensitive Zones Declared in Four Gujarati Wildlife Sanctuaries

Lions in Gir Forest

It has been recently announced that the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has declared eco-sensitive zones around four wildlife sanctuaries in the state of Gujarat. These include Gir Forest National Park in Junagadh district, Narayan Sarovar Sanctuary in Kutch district, Purna Wildlife Sanctuary in the Dangs, and Vansda National Park in Navsari district. With a rich abundance of wildlife in all four of these sanctuaries, activities such as industrialization, mining, and tourism will be restricted. The eco-sensitive zone of Gir Forest covers an area of 9,318 hectares, and includes 27 villages in Bhesan and Junagadh talukas in a five-kilometer radius. The development there is to be managed through a zonal detailed plan, which is expected to be ready in two years. The zone around Purna Wildlife Sanctuary is 25,036 hectares, with 61 villages included in a two-kilometer radius while Narayan Sarovar Sanctuary's zone will cover 28 villages in three talukas and occupy 22,588 hectares out of which 62 percent would be forest-less land. The zone will expand to 2.5 kilometers throughout the sanctuary's boundary. The zone around Vansda National Park will fan out 5 kilometers of its total boundary, and encompass up to thirteen villages.
The chinkara (Indian gazelle); a flagship species in Narayan Sarovar Sanctuary

I'm very proud to see that these wildlife sanctuaries in Gujarat are having eco-sensitive zones declared, in order help keep the biodiversity safe and preserved. All four of these sanctuaries house some of the most unique wildlife in the state. Gir Forest is well-renowned as the last abode of the Asiatic lion in the world, but is also a haven for a rich variety of plant and animal life. Purna Wildlife Sanctuary, on the other hand, is well-known for possessing almost 3,330 species of trees, herbs, shrubs, mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects. Narayan Sarovar Sanctuary is very special for it hosts three distinct habitats: dry arid grasslands, coastal mangrove forests, and wetlands. It is also a home to some of India's rare and threatened species such as the caracal, chinkara (Indian gazelle), desert cat, great Indian and houbara bustards, leopard, lesser florican, wolf, and the spiny-tailed lizard. Vansda National Park was once famous for having tigers, but are believed to have become extinct. Nonetheless, it houses nine species of mammals in addition to reptiles and amphibians. The national park is also known for having birds unique to the Western Ghats, and various kinds of medicinal herbs and shrubs with ferns, lichens, and orchids. With such abundance of wildlife in these sanctuaries, it is easy to say that human encroachment is never far. Narayan Sarovar, in particular, is known to contain rich mineral deposits such as bauxite, bentonite, lignite, and limestone which makes it prone to mining. Other threats include poaching, habitat loss, industrialization, and even tourism. For this reason, the ministry has declared eco-sensitive zones around these four wildlife sanctuaries in an effort to help keep the biodiversities safe. Although the wildlife in some of Gujarat's wildlife sanctuaries seem to have a promising future ahead, things are different for animals elsewhere in India. One recent example was pointed out by Greenpeace, in which coal mining in some parts of India is threatening tigers. This is why I also believe it is crucial that the ministry should identify other wild places in order to ensure which can be declared as eco-sensitive zones to help save the wildlife.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

New Forensic Tools to Catch Ivory Poachers

A pair of captive elephants

Scientists have recently announced that ivory poachers can be tracked down by the use of new forensic tools which can locate exactly where the illegal ivory is from using DNA. The poaching of elephants continues and remains a serious issue, with seizures of large amounts of ivory still going on. But now, researchers have found a way to identify where the ivory comes from after evaluating elephants at 22 locations in thirteen African countries to get their mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences. According to scientists, mtDNA is a good indicator for determining the origin of ivory since it is only sent by female elephants and they do not migrate between herds. As part of the test, Washington State professor Nicholas Georgiadis shot an elephant with a biopsy dart which would hit the animal's side and scrape off a small piece before falling off. Professor Alfred Roca of Urbana University described the dart "like a biting insect." Researchers collected 653 samples which were sequenced and analyzed, and found categorical subdivisions of the mtDNA out of which seven had geographical distribution. They also recognized 108 unique mtDNA sequences that gave information about the origin of the ivory, in which 72 percent were found in one locality and 82 percent were country-specific. The test revealed that even though many elephants can have the same sequence, 44 percent of the individuals carried a sequence seen only at their sampling location. It was found that nuclear markers categorized between bush and forest elephants, while the mtDNA marker showed an exact location, so the plan would be to combine both the markers together. A study titled The Evolutionary Applications stated that the research should be used by conservationists to analyze the origin of confiscated ivory.

I'm very much impressed that technology is being used in an effort to combat poaching. In this case, it is by locating where illegally smuggled ivory is coming from by using DNA. Normally, anti-poaching efforts include seizures of wildlife products being illegally smuggled overseas or across borders. But now, with the help of newly advanced forensic technology, conservationists and wildlife officials should have a better chance of tracing the origins of such illicit merchandise. This would then lead them directly to poachers behind the killing(s) of elephants. I think the use of DNA would be an effective tool in targeting ivory poachers in Africa and Asia, and hopefully it would also be used in the case of other endangered species. Furthermore, I believe this tactic combined with community outreach and education about elephants and other endangered species would further help in the battle against poaching and the illegal wildlife trade.

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Friday, August 3, 2012

Call to Protect the Arabian Oryx from Sheep/Goat Disease

A captive herd of Arabian oryx

The magnificent Arabian oryx has made a tremendous comeback after several years through captive breeding and reintroduction efforts. Before this successful recovery, the population of this graceful antelope was decimated followed by years of hunting which eventually drove it to extinction in the wild by 1972. But now, there is a new threat that has got conservationists concerned about the oryx's future. It is a deadly disease called peste de petits ruminants (PPR), a highly contagious virus that generally affects sheep and goats. Known as 'goat plague', it takes place across parts of Africa, the Middle East, and the Arabian Peninsula. It is said that the oryx are also prone to the malady, leading to concerns that it could spread from the United Arab Emirates' large goat population. Although there is a vaccine against the disease, it has been found to be effective on sheep and goats but it is not known whether it would be effective on the oryx. For this reason, research on determining the vaccine's correct levels is being conducted at the Wadi Al Safa Wildlife Center in Dubai. During the trial, twelve oryx were vaccinated and three were kept as control animals. After one month, five out of the twelve vaccinated oryx were given a booster dose. The antelopes were regularly tested for a year to check the levels of PPR's antibodies in their blood, a process that allows the capability of the vaccine to be measured. According to Declan O'Donovan, director of wildlife services at Wadi Al Safa, the data collected is still being analyzed and recommendations from the results would be published in a scientific journal.
Effects of PPR in a sheep: Inflammation and erosion of the mouth

I hope that the researchers conducting the study of the vaccine's effects would help in the conservation of the Arabian oryx. This strikingly graceful antelope was once extinct in the wild forty years ago due to limitless hunting throughout the Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula. Captive breeding and reintroduction programs have helped reboost its population in its former habitat. But now, there is news about a new form of danger that is threatening to put the oryx in a would-be jeopardy: PPR. The research of this deadly virus is currently pending at Dubai's Wadi Al Safa Wildlife Center. The center has also covered other subjects since it opened in 1998. These include foot-and-mouth disease, illnesses that affect feral cats and gazelles, and the distribution of the mountain gazelle. I also hope that this research will help in the conservation of other animals that share the habitat with the oryx. Food-and-mouth disease are known to infect antelopes such as mountain and goitered gazelles. The transmission of the disease can be done in number of ways, including close contact between animals. This is why I believe it is extremely crucial to combat this disease along with PPR to help protect the wildlife of the Middle East, Arabian Peninsula, and Africa. In Africa, fighting PPR would help tremendously in the conservation of the Arabian oryx's relative the scimitar-horned oryx which has been labeled as "extinct in the wild" since 2000. With only a handful of these antelopes currently being held in a few reserves located in Morocco, Senegal, and Tunisia, the impact of PPR could affect their last remaining captive populations their native homeland. The time is upon us to help save and protect both the Arabian and the scimitar-horned oryx from any form of threat at all costs.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Tiger Population Increases in Nepal

A captive tiger in an active mood

It has been recently reported that Nepal has witnessed a rise in its tiger population over the last couple years during which numbers jumped from 155 to 176 animals. The latest count made by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Nepal indicates an increase of 21 tigers from since 2010. Nepal, which was once home to 350 tigers in 2000, had earlier witnessed a downfall in the population to 121 in 2008. Now, this recent report has brought good news for both authorities and conservationists who have been battling the threat of poaching. According to the newly published report of the tiger census released on the World Tiger Day, the greatest surge in numbers has been reported in the Bardiya National Park in western Nepal in the last four years. Since 2008, tiger numbers in Bardiya National Park had swelled to 37 from just 18 individuals. Another notable count was recorded in the Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve in Nepal's far west, where the latest census recorded ten tigers which included six females and four males. The famed Chitwan National Park, which is also a World Heritage Site, has been found to have 126 tigers. The census was conducted by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation with the support of WWF Nepal through camera trapping. As part of the efforts to bolster awareness actions, the World Wildlife Fund has brought in Nepali actor Rajesh Hamal as the Goodwill Ambassador of WWF Nepal for conservation. According to Anil Manandhar, County Representative for WWF, there has to be focus on the conservation of tiger habitat and guaranteeing availability of prey species. He further added that anti-poaching activities need to be intensified along with the control of the wildlife trade.

I'm very happy and proud to see how the tiger population in Nepal has bounced back from low numbers in 2008, to greater numbers over the years. However, I also believe that the recent count is also an indication that poachers would do whatever it takes to go after tigers in the nation. For this reason, it is absolutely crucial to strengthen anti-poaching activities both nationally and internationally. In addition to that, measurements to spread awareness amongst local communities is also essential. The World Wildlife Fund has recently appointed a Nepali actor named Rajesh Hamal as the Goodwill Ambassador for conservation of WWF Nepal. This is one of the ways in which major organizations like the WWF and others persuade the public to stand up for a cause, which in this case is wildlife conservation. I also think that educating the public about the dangers of poaching and illegal wildlife trade, along with the benefits of eco-tourism is another surefire way to provide encouragement in order to help put a stop to any wildlife crimes. Overall, I find that this is extremely good news for Nepal and should be taken as a call in continuation to further strengthen its security against wildlife crimes and conservation of wildlife habitats.

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