Thursday, December 27, 2012

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

Indian one-horned rhinoceros

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

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

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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

China's Finless Porpoises in Decline

A Yangtze River porpoise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Criminal Syndicates Have Major Advantage in Illegal Wildlife Trade

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

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

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

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

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