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.

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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.

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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.

View article here

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.

View article here

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.

View article here    

Japan and Indonesia Join Forces to Save Two Sea Turtle Species from Extinction

A sea turtle researcher collects hawksbill turtle eggs to relocate them to nurseries, in order to protect them from poachers.

It has been recently reported that the governments of Japan and Indonesia are to work together in an effort to save two species of sea turtles from extinction: the hawksbill turtle and the leatherback turtle. Japan is known to be the main receiver of sea turtles and has been comparatively responsible for the eighty percent downfall of hawksbill turtles, which conservationists and scientists say are critically endangered. One anonymous environmental ministry in Indonesia stated that it is working with the Japanese to help put a stop in the illegal trade of these turtles. The process works when poachers capture the turtles in Indonesia and transport them back to Japan, including their eggs. Such exports spiked in the 1950s, but in recent years, despite legal actions, have returned. Japan stated that it is willing to work with Indonesia to help curb the ongoing illegal trade. According to Hiroyuki Suganuma, executive director of Everlasting Nature of Asia (ELNA), Japan has imported carapaces taken from 200,000 hawksbill turtles for 29 years since 1961. He stated that Japan has maintained its position as the major importer of sea turtles and their eggs, despite agreeing to ban the importation of such illicit products in 1992.
A hawksbill turtle swimming
A leatherback turtle digging a nest

Although I'm proud to see that both Japan and Indonesia have partnered up to save these two sea turtle species, I'm at the same time appalled and disgusted that the Japanese government has failed to keep its promise to prevent any flow illegal sea turtle products into the country. This goes to show that it is not always the traders and other operators of such lucrative and illegal business that are a threat to the wildlife, but also the government for having to ignore the flow of illicit wildlife products into a nation for public consumption. Japan is not the only nation to have a government turning a blind eye and a deaf ear towards the illegal wildlife trade. There are also a handful of other governments around the world that have also maintained positions as top importers of illegal wildlife products. Among those include different West and Central African countries that do not pay much attention to the bushmeat trade, despite the promises made to prevent any such flow of products for public consumption. For this reason, I firmly believe that it is crucial that governments in nations where the illegal wildlife trade reigns supreme should start acting, in order to condemn any further flow of wildlife products into the public. Making promises to prevent wildlife crimes is one thing, but acting in response to such crimes is another. And it is the acting that makes the most difference to both the public and the world.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

New Campaign Launched to Fight Wildlife Crimes

Black rhinos

It has been announced that wildlife monitoring network TRAFFIC and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) have recently launched a collaborative global campaign calling on governments around the world to tackle the illegal wildlife trade, and diminish the demand for illicit products of endangered species. The campaign was launched by these two major organizations in response to record levels in poaching of Africa's elephants and rhinos. The demand for these animals' ivory and horns, along with tiger parts, from Asian consumer markets has been increasing in recent years. A TRAFFIC report on the rhino poaching, which released earlier this month, noted how rhino numbers killed illegally in South Africa rose from 13 animals in 2007 to 448 in 2011. The animals' horns were smuggled to contribute Asian consumer markets, particularly Vietnam. In 2012, 339 rhinos have been killed in South Africa, with the total for the year is more than 500 animals at current rates. In June, a report by TRAFFIC and other organizations including CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) disclosed that 2011 was the worst year on record for large scale seizures of ivory. China and Thailand were recognized as the largest consumer markets for illegally smuggled ivory. In that same report, analyzing data from the CITES MIKE (Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants) system estimated that tens of thousands of elephants are believed to be killed each year for their tusks, the majority in Central Africa. In 2010, another report by TRAFFIC disclosed that parts of at least 1,069 tigers had been seized in tiger range countries over the past ten years. Last week, the skins of eight tigers were seized in Russia.

I very much hope that various international governments will join this campaign as part of the effort to put a stop to this ongoing crisis. The battle against poaching and the illegal wildlife trade is a never-ending one, much like the illegal drug trade, human trafficking, and various other types of crimes that have plagued our world for generations. I firmly believe it is an absolute must that governments around the world should join forces with TRAFFIC, WWF, and various major organizations committed to saving wildlife worldwide. These recent years have spelled major trouble for elephants and rhinos in Africa, and the crisis is still continuing even as we speak. In Central Africa, the elephant populations have been suffering miserably in the murderous and remorseless hands of poachers and their deaths continue to make headlines. South Africa has also been dealt with a fatal blow, as hundreds of rhinos continue to perish in the hands of sophisticated poaching syndicates. In addition to that, various other species of animals in different parts of the world are under severe threat as a result of wildlife crimes. Recently, over 46,000 illegally smuggled animals were seized in Colombia. These organized crime syndicates specializing in the illegal killing and trading of wildlife are just as powerful as their shadowy counterparts that capitalize in crimes that claim human lives. One of the major factors that has helped wildlife crime syndicates to rise to power is technology. That is, various consumer websites like eBay have become major hubs for the illegal wildlife trade where consumer can find animal products in order to purchase. This is why it is crucial that the world needs to stand up to this never-ending crisis, in order to help save and conserve the world's wildlife.

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