Thursday, October 25, 2012

Rhino Poacher Admits to Militants' Involvement in Assam

A dead rhinoceros in Kaziranga National Park

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

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

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

View article here

Monday, October 15, 2012

DNA Proves that Ethiopia's Lions are Genetically Distinct

An Ethiopian lion

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

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

View article here

Monday, October 8, 2012

Ganges River Dolphin Numbers Go Up in Uttar Pradesh

Ganges River dolphin

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

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

View article here

Friday, October 5, 2012

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

A dead rhino in Kaziranga National park

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

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

View article here